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for people who care about the West

State-by-state trash

  Idaho had 85 landfills, according to Katie Sewell, solid waste coordinator in the state department of environmental quality; by summer, that will be down to 30, and most of the panhandle counties will ship their trash to big landfills in eastern Washington. Idaho has a couple of problem landfills. But these are more a result of industrial-mining residues than household waste.


Wyoming has regulated landfills since 1975, said Carl Anderson, regional supervisor for solid waste, and as the EPA proposed regulations, the state adopted them.


Thus, few problems are anticipated with its 77 operating landfills. About a quarter of these, Anderson said, are in places so arid that they are exempt from monitoring, even under the new rules: "You can't pollute the groundwater if there isn't any groundwater."


As for isolated ranchers, "they can still dump their trash on their property, just as they always have."


Utah is a different story; dumps were not regulated by the state, so there wasn't even an inventory before the EPA told the states to start writing regulations.


"Some were pretty disgusting," according to Ralph Bahn, solid waste section manager in the department of environmental quality. "You'd see 200 yards of dead cows, or they were on fire all the time. But I don't know of any that were causing any groundwater pollution."


Some counties complain that the new regulations are too expensive, Bahn noted, but "these are counties that never spent 50 cents on their dumps before - no fence, no attendants, nothing - so it's hard to take them seriously."


Of the estimated 130 landfills operating recently in Utah, perhaps 40 will remain, Bahn said.


Montana's state government is pushing big regional landfills such as those at Great Falls and Missoula, both operated by private companies.


Lou Thompson, environmental specialist in the licensing unit of the state solid waste program, said about 80 dumps have been operating; the state is reviewing their licenses with an eye toward consolidation.


Montana's only major dump problem is a landfill at Butte, he said, and that's industrial waste, rather than household waste.


Don Beardsley, geologist in the solid waste bureau of New Mexico's environmental department, said his state is reviewing 90 landfills, "and at least a dozen of them will be closed."


One problem with the review is that there are a couple of suspicious operations, Beardsley said, "but we don't have good baseline data to show whether or not they're polluting."


On the other hand, he said, "there are counties like Catron County which were doing things right, but still can't afford to meet the new regulations, which are going to create some hardships."


The state is encouraging rural counties to create joint disposal districts; a district would operate one state-of-the-art landfill, with transfer stations scattered through the district.


Colorado had 108 landfills, and about a third of them will close, said Glenn Mallory, section chief of the solid waste program in the state health department.


The only rural landfill that definitely leaked, he said, was one near Milliken in Weld County (HCN, 9/20/93), and that was not operated by a public entity. Among the others, there are "some we suspect," but there's no evidence yet.


* E.Q.