Last year the Cumberland County Board of Supervisors approved a conditional use permit for construction of a 500-acre mega-landfill. Some county residents welcome the facility, which would generate between $1.4 million and $2.8 million a year in host fees and provide a huge revenue boost to a county budget of roughly $15 million a year. But others oppose the project.
Irène Mathieu, a Charlottesville pediatrician, raises all sorts of phantasmagorical concerns in an op-ed today appearing in The Virginia Mercury. In her clinic, she says, she encounters children suffering from asthma or complications from premature births. “The scientific evidence tells us that air and water pollution are contributing factors to these children’s problems, and that the burden from pollution is disproportionately borne by children of color and those living in poverty.”
Threats to Cumberland County families and children — nearly one-third of whom are African-American, she points out — include groundwater contamination, dust, methane, and “dramatic surges in traffic.” The landfill, she adds, would close off a road in front of a historic African-American school, rendering community access nearly impossible. Further, she writes, “I worry about the self-worth of children who grown up with no access to their local history, the graves of their ancestors now a repository for trash.”
Wow! Where does one begin to dissect this kind of logic?
Just for starters, perhaps one could start with the observation that the air pollution that contributes to asthma among the urban children treated by Dr. Mathieu comes from ozone, or nitrogen oxide… a result of fossil fuel combustion… which does not occur at a landfill.
As for methane, last I heard, the chemical might be a greenhouse gas, but it’s lighter than air and poses no threat to people on the ground. Methane emissions might be problematic for balloonists flying over the landfill, but not to anyone else. Actually, even balloonists need not worry. The Cumberland landfill plan calls for capturing the methane as a fuel source.
While we’re talking about “the scientific evidence,” perhaps we could request Dr. Mathieu to actually provide some. She suggests that the landfill poses a threat to drinking water from wells. What toxic materials are likely to leak from the landfill, which is sealed by synthetic liners, and at what rate? How does that rate of leakage compare to the migration of groundwater past the landfill? How contaminated is that groundwater likely to get — will concentrations of chemicals exceed safety levels established by the Environmental Protection Agency? How many households’ water wells are likely to be contaminated? What are the odds that someone drinking well water might actually suffer an adverse health effect? One in a thousand? One in a million? One in a billion?
Not only does Dr. Mathieu fail to impress me with her command of “the scientific evidence,” she shows no awareness whatsoever of economic principles.
First point: If the landfill is not built in Cumberland County, where will the trash be disposed of? The 5,000 tons per day of trash won’t disappear. It has to be put somewhere. In other words, preventing construction of the Cumberland landfill would displace the disposal of trash to some other location so it becomes someone else’s problem. Will those other locations be built to the same design and engineering standards? Will they be as safe as the Cumberland project — or less safe?
Just wondering: Does Dr. Mathieu know where her trash goes? How does the City of Charlottesville dispose of its garbage? Does it wind up in landfills? Are those landfills state-of-the-art? Do they pose health threats to nearby residents?
Second point: The landfill will generate a revenue stream of between $1.4 million and $2.8 million per year for Cumberland County. What could the Board of Supervisors do with that money? Well, perhaps it could build a new road to improve access to the historic school Dr. Mathieu seems so worried about. Perhaps it could double, triple, or quadruple funding for the local health department — which stood at a mere $92,000 in fiscal 2019. How many lives could such a funding increase save? Alternatively, perhaps the board could bolster the $3.9 million it dishes off to the county’s public school system. Might a 50% increase in local funding improve the educational outcomes and “self-worth” of the county’s African-American children?
Although landfill technology has improved in recent years, Dr. Mathieu concedes, “no landfill can completely eliminate the environmental risks that come with such massive collections of waste.” So, that’s the new standard — zero risk.
News flash: Zero risk is a mirage. You can manage risk and reduce it to levels you can live with. Otherwise, you just displace risk to where you can’t see it and don’t worry about it while creating new risks in the process. Chemophobia and environmental hysteria lead to worse outcomes, not better ones. Zero risk is madness.There are currently no comments highlighted.