With the frequency and severity of storms on the rise, municipal solid waste landfill operators have to think differently to keep their workers and environment safe. Planning is key to safely hit the ground running in the wake of severe weather.
Federal law does not hold household hazardous waste (HHW) to the same standards as what is classified as hazardous waste (generated by businesses and received at subtitle C landfills). Yet, these materials have the same compounds and are potentially dangerous too.
“Subtitle D landfills routinely receive these wastes, but under normal conditions, it’s in much smaller quantities, and they are typically segregated. So managing them is not a big deal. But, after a storm, operators can be inundated with these oxidizers, corrosives, flammable gases, and flammable solids. It’s all coming in at once and mixed with other storm debris, posing a risk for reactions and workers’ safety,” says Mike Knox, SCS Quality Advisor. He supports landfill operators in safely managing hazardous wastes. Storm season is a busy time for him and his clients. Those unprepared find themselves pulled in multiple directions and need to act quickly and smartly.
If a structure blows down, it may generate waste that contains gallons of dangerous liquid, gas containers, propane tanks, and pesticides mixed in. It’s dangerous, especially if a waste worker does not see it.
Mike’s Planning Advice
Operators set themselves up for success when they’re ready to go with a plan before that first 80-mile-an-hour wind gust hits.
“You must know how to identify hazardous wastes ahead, train staff ahead, and look at worse-case scenarios ahead,” Knox says.
He and his team start by looking at operators’ facilities and identifying materials, workers’ roles, and available equipment and assets. They identify safety areas and set up classrooms. Important are preparing the staging areas to manage the influx, screen, and segregate by waste type.
Then they look at government rules; help operators determine what they need to do; and execute a plan.
Operators need to secure waste, make sure it’s packaged right, and minimize it where possible to stave off mishaps.
The safety of people and equipment is part of a proactive strategy. Trucks can tip over with heavy, wet loads, so do not overload them. Space trucks in the tipping area are at least 10 feet further apart than the dump trailer is long. For a 30-foot trailer, that’s 40 feet.
Setting up this extra space can be difficult unless you’ve established a large tipping area, and don’t take chances with dump trailers; the results have proven deadly in the past, Knox advises.
Check that backup alarms and strobe lights are working. Train equipment operators to look for vehicles and pedestrians. Do not allow cell phones at the working face; a distraction that no one needs. Mandate the use of high-visibility vests and restrict people to stay within five feet of their vehicle. Strictly control scavenging. People cannot wander and pull items from the trash.
Fuel is the item most often overlooked in Knox’s experience.
“Having enough fuel to operate heavy landfill equipment and hauling fleets is essential to keep waste moving. Severe storms have impacted fuel supplies for several days to a week or more, so stock up,” he recommends. Mike typically arranges for temporary fuel storage tanks so haulers and heavy equipment operators can stay on their mark through and after the storm.
Scenarios in Preparation
Part of safety management is asking “what if” and then answering ahead of a problem. Depending on where ‘what if’ leads, you prioritize and go after the big things first. One big one is, what if floods occur? That question leads to more specifics to plan for, such as roads likely to be impacted and establishing alternate routes available. What other actions will help traffic flow?
Remember: if there’s a lot of rain or clay, trucks can slip going up hills. So alternate tipping areas that are lower and flatter may be needed to accommodate inclement weather access. “And that takes preparation. Sometimes you have to build a road to reroute to an area you are not using. It can take days,” Knox says.
Building wet weather access roads are important, as are measures like cleaning out stormwater ditches. Nevertheless, know that, depending on location, rising water may flood out areas despite these efforts. Pumping water into berms and ponds from flooded ditches can be a temporary solution if your plan and local regulations allow it. Coordinate with regulatory and permit agencies to set up such actions.
You will want to bolster protections of maintenance facilities, the scale house, and other structures that could be damaged or lose power – stock up on tarps, lumber, and power generators.
Many operators find waste screening towers to be especially useful. Knox and his team will build them in advance to prepare for what’s coming. Waste screeners at the gate radio to active face supervisors if hazardous materials are arriving so they can properly place them, ensuring they are covered with dirt before sending staff to the active face.
Knox completes quality evaluations guided by a 200-item checklist to ensure proper procedures are in place. He compliments this list with many questions to prepare.
Know Your Jurisdiction’s Rules and Storm Accommodations
Operators check local permit conditions to take advantage of possible modifications they may make. Some jurisdictions have more lenient weight restrictions for hauling vehicles or the option to set up temporary staging areas.
Knox also suggests coordinating with the local permit and regulatory agencies following the storm to take advantage of emergency relief funds and coordinate across the area’s public and emergency services.
Local government, emergency responders, regulatory and permitting agencies often have Emergency Operations Centers (EOC) to coordinate resources, information, and crisis management. Mayors, County Commissioners, fire departments, hospitals, police, environmental regulatory agencies, and other key industry leaders are typically part of this team.
These groups practice response coordination and stage tabletop exercises or mock disasters. “Take time to participate and plan with the EOC. Check for whatever else may be available in your area to help prepare, and work as a team with these local entities to respond to severe weather or other emergency events,” Knox says.
Circling Back to Planning
“Knowing what to do before the storm hits will make your recovery easier. You will keep your employees, your community, and your site safe. And be ready to go back to normal operations much faster.”
About the Author: Mike Knox has over 30 years of Ordnance and Hazardous Materials experience. He is a Regional OM&M Compliance Manager with extensive supervisory abilities in hazardous waste emergency response and large-scale clearance operations.