There may — or may not — be some scientific disagreement about how much spilled oil remains in the Gulf of Mexico, but there’s no mystery about how much oily waste is collecting in local landfills: more than 50,000 tons. Although the waste contains the carcinogen benzene, federal law — in another costly giveaway to the industry — exempts wastes related to oil drilling from being classified as toxic, allowing BP to merrily offload their used boom and other materials to local landfills, including several that have histories of environmental problems.
The Chastang Landfill, 25 miles north of Mobile, Alabama, is receiving oil spill waste — which includes tar balls and used booms, among other things — despite an ongoing state investigation into high levels of mercury and barium found in nearby groundwater. The Magnolia Landfill in Summerdale, Alabama, is being investigated for groundwater contaminated with arsenic and acetone. Just last month, state officials fined that dump $30,000 for failing to adequately monitor methane flares used to burn off gas.
Even at environmentally-compliant landfills, oil spill waste could leach through the landfill liners and into groundwater, or mix with the household chemicals already permitted at the sites with unpredictable effects. Environmental justice is also an issue: the communities near the landfills in question are disproportionately poor and black.
The EPA defends its decision to allow BP to unload at the landfills, saying that it continues to monitor the waste. On your dime.
Lead photo © Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club