The Long-Term Environmental Risks of Subtitle D Landfills

Publish Date: 2011

In 1991, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgated new regulations for landfills used for the disposal of municipal solid waste (MSW). As the regulations were issued under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), these landfills are referred to as “Subtitle D” landfills.

Some Subtitle D landfills have now been in operation for many years and are approaching the end of their service lives. A small number have already been closed and have entered their postclosure periods. Subtitle D regulations require that the post-closure care period • during which the landfill site is maintained and the environmental protection systems are managed and monitored • be 30 years in length. During the service lives of Subtitle D landfills, landfill owners are required to set aside or otherwise insure that funds will be available to cover the costs of these post-closure management, maintenance, and monitoring tasks.

Of primary importance in this regard is the responsibility given to state governments to extend or reduce the post-closure period, as warranted, to ensure that human health and the environment are protected for as long as the landfill poses a threat.

To date, the EPA has not provided any guidance to state governments on how to make this determination as well as how to promulgate regulations that will insure that funds are available • should the post-closure period be extended • to cover the required management, maintenance, and monitoring tasks beyond the prescribed 30-year post-closure period as well as funds to remediate environmental problems.

Certain environmental groups have claimed that closed Subtitle D landfills constitute major ongoing environmental risks to the communities in which they are located and that the postclosure care period should never end.

The purpose of this project is to compile and summarize what is known about the actual long-term environmental risks associated with Subtitle D landfills and to introduce long-term care alternatives that can be used to manage and minimize these risks.

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