Cleveland and Bradley County residents are no exception. Those who read our publication, while following the news and headlines on local, state, national and international stages, are often counted as among the most adept at picking up on news happenings, whether real or perceived.
Their observations sometimes lead to solid news stories; other times their tips provide us with an appropriate forum for helping to answer questions, dispel myths or address ongoing practices that might be of interest to some while satisfying the curiosity of others.
One such occurrence came recently when a reader emailed to us a photograph he had taken at the Bradley County landfill showing heavy-duty, dark-colored plastic bags marked “Danger” being disposed of at the public facility near McDonald. This Cleveland resident was there discarding of his own household refuse when he noticed the bags being dumped.
Naturally, he wanted to know why such materials were being allowed into the local landfill. After all, the containers were clearly marked “Danger.” He asked our newspaper to get some answers.
So we did.
The bags held a friable form of asbestos, meaning it can become airborne, thereby posing a potential hazard to the surrounding air and those who breathe it regularly, at least, over a prolonged period. This is the purpose of having it contained for proper landfill disposal. Fortunately, friable asbestos is not as common as in years past. This doesn’t mean it no longer exists. It simply indicates more and more of it has been, and continues to be, disposed of at landfills and other facilities authorized to accept it.
Asbestos is a known human carcinogen linked to lung cancer, mesothelioma and other serious respiratory and lung infections such as asbestosis that can result from prolonged exposure to its fibers. Asbestos has been mined for 4,000 years. Its production peaked in 1975, but its popularity has dwindled steadily due to health concerns. EPA defines six minerals as being asbestos — chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite.
Most common uses of asbestos include certain ceiling, wall and flooring materials, shingles, brake linings, pipe insulation, plaster, drywall and joint compounds, rope seals for boilers and others.
Cheryl Dunson, representing Santek Environmental which operates the landfill under contract with Bradley County government, explained both friable and forms of asbestos are accepted in the local landfill. The friable variety must be bagged; the nonfriable does not require any form of packaging.
It is important to note anyone who knowingly disposes of asbestos-containing materials at a public landfill, and who transports it there locally, must have state agency approval. This is done by submitting an application to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s field office in Chattanooga.
Like many public landfills, the Bradley County facility is authorized by state authorities to accept special waste such as asbestos and nonhazardous contaminated soils. The local landfill has “blanket approval” from state agencies, meaning it can accept asbestos at any time.
Dunson said it is not unusual for the general public to be confused about the types of wastes accepted by the landfill. This is why Santek maintains an open line of communication with the Bradley County mayor’s office and the Bradley County Commission. It also is why area residents are invited to contact Santek with questions about the landfill, its operation and the guidelines it follows in accepting waste — household or otherwise.
One newspaper reader’s curiosity, himself a landfill user, very likely has answered a question for hundreds or thousands of other area residents.
We thank him for his sense of observation, his interest and his initiative in asking.
As Dunson mentioned, we encourage area residents to contact Santek with their concerns or questions on such matters. It is a public landfill so certainly the public has the right to understand its operation.