Until the 1980s, conventional wisdom held that Wyoming was so arid that landfills didn't need liners to prevent leaks.
As a result, at least 21 of the state's currently
operating and closed municipal landfills are now leaking dangerous
chemicals, such as nitrates, chlorides, pesticides and dry-cleaning
solvents, into groundwater. The number could be even higher; many
of the closed dumps aren't monitored.
The landfill that
poses the biggest threat is in Cheyenne. Records show it's been
leaking since 1996, contaminating shallow groundwater zones and an
aquifer 170 feet down. The confined aquifer the city uses for
drinking water has yet to be affected, but only a layer of sediment
separates it from the contaminated groundwater above it.
City officials began capping parts of the dump in 1996 to keep rain
and snow from making the leak worse. They plan to stop using the
dump when it reaches capacity, within a few years.
the dump problems around the state, Gov. Dave Freudenthal has
appointed a citizens' advisory group to come up with new
solid-waste policies. Goals include new emphasis on recycling,
helping local governments speed cleanups, and building safer
The Department of Environmental
Quality is also working on new guidelines to make it tougher for
communities to build landfills without liners. Officials estimate
that fixing and cleaning up after the leaks will cost at least $50
"That's a big expensive 'oops,' " says Bob
Doctor of the DEQ.