Nearly three weeks after a gas leak from a landfill near Cortland, Ill., resulted in 71 people being hospitalized from the Cortland Elementary School, Illinois’ attorney general has filed suit against Waste Management.
The leak occurred after contractors digging in the site hit a gas pocket. A foul odor drifted into the school’s ventilation system a mile away. Several dozen exposed were treated for low-level exposure to carbon monoxide.
Lisa Disbrow, a spokeswoman for Waste Management, said, “Waste Management has been a part of this community since 1991 and, outside of this incident, has an excellent environmental record. … We remain committed to ensuring safe practices at all times at all of our sites.”
Landfill gas is roughly 50% carbon dioxide and 50% methane. It is the methane that poses the greatest danger. Air pollution from landfill travels further than is often recognized, and since those gasses can often not be smelled or are visible, detection is harder to come by. Landfills are designed to keep methane form being released, but leaks happen all the time, and without proper control, can seep into pipes and buildings as it did in this case.
Waste Management officials have offered to reimburse families for medical costs incurred as a result of the incident and have agreed to take additional precautions to prevent future leaks.
The initial agreement prohibits Waste Management workers from digging into solid waste at the Cortland area landfill if the wind is from a southerly direction in excess of 10 mph, or if other conditions would cause digging to impact air quality at Cortland Elementary School.”
Waste Management will also be taking the following precautions in order to keep the landfill in operation; 1) all workers and contractors wear monitors recording any levels of combustible gas, oxygen, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulfide, 2) collect two samples from the gas collection system at the landfill, 3) notify the state’s environmental protection officials at least 24 hours before digging in waste again, 4) install a weather station that can monitor and record temperature, wind speed and direction and barometric pressure.
Concerned parents asked the school’s board what they should do if they don’t feel comfortable sending their children to school while the EPA does additional testing? The board offered no answers.