Telling on trash
Steve Chasteen played with trash for a living for two and half years and loved it. With a bulldozer as his tool and doing a good job as his motivation, Chasteen built cells of solid waste at Waste Management’s Forest View Recycling and Disposal Facility in Kansas City, Kan., at 4800 Kaw Drive. The landfill was built in 1986 and was touted as a state-of-the-art facility. It stretches over 129 acres, 62 of which are permitted for landfill space, along I-70 in a relatively unpopulated area overlooking the meandering Kansas River about a quarter-mile away.
Sitting atop his bulldozer at the landfill, Chasteen was a happy man — “An idiot savant,” he says, laughing. He had a job outdoors. It was skilled labor that paid pretty well. At the end of the day, he felt the satisfaction of seeing what he accomplished. “It’s trash, but someone has to dispose of waste in a responsible, safe way,” Chasteen says. He believed he was performing a service to the community, to society as a whole.
While moving waste from trash trucks into the cells dug in the ground and covering them with soil, Chasteen thought a lot about the environment. “People don’t think much about throwing things into a trash can and setting it once a week on the curb,” he says. “Everyone wants their trash taken care of in a safe way. They see trash trucks pick up their trash, or they throw their trash into a trash can at work, and they trust that it is taken care of in a way that is safe for the environment, the wildlife, and for people.
“Nobody wants this stuff to come back and haunt us years from now. But people don’t really know or care what happens once it gets into that trash truck. They just have trust. Some people work to reduce the amount of trash they put into a landfill. But even then, once the stuff is picked up, it’s just trust.”
Little did Chasteen realize that such opinions would cost him his job. It had to do with wastewater runoff and medical waste — trash Chasteen wasn’t supposed to deal with.
Just common sense
Chasteen comes from a place where men and women are taken at their word, where people act reasonably and directly to handle the problems others cause. The 29-year-old grew up on a 3,800-acre farm in central Washington state that his family still owns, near the town of Hannah on the Yakima Indian Reservation. Hard work was a prerequisite for survival in the farm economy. People helped one another; they had to trust one another.
There’s a map of Washington on a folding piece of cardboard in Chasteen’s basement at his Independence, Mo., home. Standing in front of the window-size map, he looks distant. He runs his finger along rivers and mountain ranges on and near the reservation where he learned to hunt and fish. “On a clear day,” he says, his words falling into the map, “you can see Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, and Mount Saint Helens from the farm.” He talks about catching trout in mountain streams, catching salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers, and hunting in the hills and vast open spaces of sparsely populated Yakima Valley. But the Snake River is an endangered river, and the salmon are disappearing.
“It’s because of these dams,” Chasteen says, pointing to the map. “You know, they supposedly get a lot of electrical power from them. But I have toured several of them, and I have never seen them running all the turbines at once. You can’t help but think that they can do something better, run a few dams more efficiently, and take out the rest. That’s what we need to do. You know, for the health of the river. What benefits nature is going to benefit us in the long run. After all, we are only borrowing this earth for a little while.”
Common sense seems to inhabit Chasteen. He’s a practical man who exhibits a confidence in his own experience. He says he mixed well with the American Indians who lived on the reservation and that he learned a great deal from them. Chasteen went to the local community college and then to the University of Washington in Seattle to earn a degree in forestry management. But he doesn’t look or sound like an Earth Firster. He has worked skilled labor jobs most of his life — the kind of work people take for granted as they jump in their cars, drive over highways, open and close doors, and turn on lights and water in their homes. Chasteen stands above 6 feet, earning him the nickname “Bull.” Despite his size, his movements are deliberate and agile. His goal growing up, he says, was to join the legions of Washington loggers and farmers, and he did both. But logging didn’t sit well with his growing concern for the environment. He saw that mechanization was getting rid of forest jobs quicker than was stricter environmental rules.
Still, Chasteen says, “I hated it when someone at the plant (landfill) called me a tree hugger. I believe we need to take care of the environment. Normally, I don’t mind being called a tree hugger. But when they called me that out at the plant, it was a slur. Man, that made me mad.”
Chasteen left his family farm to work construction and drive heavy machinery. He landed in Independence in the mid-1990s. He was a loyal construction union member. For $24 an hour, Chasteen worked when he could and liked the physical labor and the money. The work made him happy.
He started learning woodworking and built a portable woodshop in his garage. “You know, working with heavy machinery in construction, if it was raining, you were at home,” Chasteen says. “I needed something to do, and this was it. I taught myself nearly everything about it. I make things for other people and for me.”
His workbenches and shelves are lined with projects — some are gifts for family members, cut from patterns he has culled from the woodworking magazines that cover his coffee table. Other projects, like a corner shelf in the shape of a trout and what will be a mosaic of a flying duck, are of his own design. He has also designed an ingenious router guide that allows him to do detailed work, even routing out people’s names and sayings in wood.
“But you know, work isn’t always so steady in construction. It is seasonal and you have to travel too, which I don’t mind much. But I was married and really wanted to work,” he says, looking up from his router guide. Chasteen’s wife is a nurse at a local hospital. “I found the job with Waste Management at Forest View. It was steady, year-round, and I got into it. I liked the big machines,” Chasteen says, laughing, “like a kid with trucks. I could work the machinery all day long.
“Waste Management was only about $13 an hour, but working 50 hours a week and with overtime, I was making more money than in construction. We worked in all weather. I tried to educate myself about landfill management, about the liners they need to separate the trash and rain that soaks through it, the leachate, from groundwater. I learned about leachate systems.”
Chasteen worked his way up to lead operator among eight bulldozer drivers. He began to notice that trucks were dumping more medical waste than showed up on truck manifests. He says he also noticed problems with stormwater management and that leachate was sometimes used to water roads for dust control rather than pumped into tank trucks and transported to a wastewater treatment facility.
“The company said they had a zero tolerance policy when it came to infractions of the rules,” says Chasteen. “When I tried to bring the problems to their attention, I thought they would care about them. After all, all their company rhetoric and the messages they send to the public are about their care for the environment. But I found out they really didn’t care. What they said and what they did were different stories.”
A bloody mess
Maybe it was Chasteen’s tree-hugging conscience that caused him to lose his job on Nov. 29, 1999. At the time he was fired, he says, six or seven loads of medical waste — everything from dirty facial tissue to surgical refuse, blood bags, catheters, hypodermics, and scalpels — came to Forest View each day from several area hospitals.
Eventually, he filed a complaint with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) about the medical waste and wastewater runoff. His complaint would result in Forest View’s being cited for mismanagement of stormwater and excessive levels of leachate — the water from rain and snow that soaks through the garbage and settles on the huge sheet of 16mm-thick plastic that lines the entire landfill. The citations brought Waste Management a $79,000 fine, which the company is appealing.
The company denies that the landfill accepted medical waste, and KDHE inspectors failed to turn up evidence of medical waste buried at Forest View. “We do not accept medical wastes,” says Kevin O’Brien, division vice president of Waste Management of Kansas Inc. “There was an allegation of that in a complaint to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. That was completely incorrect. The department found no medical wastes after they came out to look at the facility. The state looked into that; we followed up on that. That complaint was lodged by a disgruntled ex-employee. The problems did not exist.”
KDHE public information officer Sharon Watson says that “any landfill can take medical waste in the state of Kansas. But identifying it is difficult. If the individual landfill decides not to take waste in orange bags, that is an individual decision. But if the waste is mixed in with regular trash, then it will be difficult for the landfill to identify that.”
But Chasteen says the amount of medical waste at Forest View was great. He says medical waste began coming to the landfill in larger, more frequent, and more identifiable loads. Very little, Chasteen says, came in the internationally recognizable orange biohazard bags. It arrived in regular trash bags that broke open as Chasteen and other workers moved the trash around with their bulldozers. At the landfill, he and other employees mixed what Chasteen says was unprocessed medical waste into household trash and contaminated soil.
Unprocessed medical waste can be a nightmare of bloody surgical gauze, discarded blades and needles, used blood bags, catheters, and bedpans. Nearly everything that can be a receptacle for or comes into contact with bodily fluids is medical waste, as well as the contents of the red biohazard boxes from hospital and operating rooms, and hospital bathrooms.
“This stuff is supposed to be autoclaved (a high-heat sterilizer) or incinerated,” says Chasteen. “But that costs more, and the bottom line had to stay down. Hospitals would send the stuff in, and it would look like common trash. We really had to keep our eyes open to keep from being hurt. I was arguing that the sharps (needles and other sharp objects) were vehicles for blood-borne pathogens.”
Chasteen says that every day, three to seven of the trucks arriving at Forest View — around 1 percent of the total number of trucks — contained medical waste that was not accounted for on truck delivery manifests. Waste generator profile sheets obtained by PitchWeekly indicate that medical waste came from area hospitals and other medical facilities, including Truman Medical Center, the University of Kansas Medical Center, Lee’s Summit Hospital, St. Joseph Health Center, and the Bayer facility in Shawnee. Kansas law requires that medical waste be either incinerated or autoclaved before it’s buried in the landfill.
A waste generator profile sheet, required by the KDHE, is a permit kept on file at the landfill. It lists the name of the institution the waste comes from, what the waste is expected to be, the kind of container the waste is shipped in, and what a company such as Waste Management decides to do with the waste — send it directly to the landfill, incinerate it, stabilize and solidify liquid waste, or compost it. Manifests are shorter descriptions of specific truck loads that also have billing information, specific tonnage, truck weight, load weight, and waste disposal permit information.
O’Brien says that Forest View is open to the public and accepts an average of 1,000 tons of trash every day from seven counties in the metro area. About 30 percent of the trash is from municipal sources, generally household trash. The other 70 percent, he says, is commercial waste. Forest View does not accept hazardous wastes, although it does accept “special wastes” that include contaminated soils, such as those dug from around underground gas tanks, asbestos, and other wastes that are not defined as hazardous by state statute.
The Kansas medical waste disposal statute (KSA 28-29-27) defines “medical services waste” as solid wastes “capable of causing disease or injury and which are generated through inpatient and outpatient services.” Medical wastes are not supposed to include waste considered hazardous due to the presence of toxic chemicals and materials. The statute stipulates that all medical wastes “be segregated from other solid wastes at the point of origin,” stored and transported in readily recognizable containers that prevent the spread of disease. All needles, scalpels, and other sharp instruments are supposed to be in sealed, puncture-resistant containers.
But KSA 28-29-27 has a loophole big enough to drive trash trucks through in a subsection of the law dealing with the processing of medical waste. “Medical services waste that has been processed may be combined with other solid wastes,” the statute reads. The law then gives a waste producer an out in requiring that the waste be processed. “Where feasible (emphasis added), all medical services waste shall be processed before transportation off-site….” The means of processing are defined as autoclaving or chemically treating to destroy disease, or grinding, melting, or pulverizing sharp objects to “destroy their injury-producing potential.”
“We received medical waste in abundance, and I started asking questions after a while,” Chasteen says. “Everyone was asking questions. On June 21, 1999, we had a routine, random truck inspection and found a truck filled with medical waste that wasn’t on the manifest. Our supervisor, (Forest View landfill manager) Junior Lamas, took pictures of it and sent them up to the office. Management came out and said they were going to do more inspections, keep that sort of thing from happening again. They said they were going to have a zero tolerance policy for that kind of stuff. But it happened more and more, and nothing was being done about it.”
Lamas didn’t respond to Chasteen’s account. All questions, he says, must be directed to O’Brien.
A repulsive kind of tea
Chasteen says that needles and scalpels that lay on or just below the landfill’s surface routinely punctured his and his crew’s boots. When their bulldozers’ tracks clogged with dirt after a rain or when pushing muddy soil, the only way to free them up was with shovels and by hand. Needle sticks, he said, were common.
Autoclaving would have reduced the surgical wastes, blood bags, catheters, and other plastic and fabric wastes to ash, which the law says can mix safely with other solid waste in a landfill. “But if they were autoclaving or incinerating the material,” says Chasteen, “you’d think that stuff would disappear in puffs of smoke. But they weren’t doing that. Even if they had been treating it chemically, say with bleach or disinfectant, you’d think you’d be able to smell that. But you didn’t smell anything but that garbage rotting.
“If (the medical waste) had been autoclaved, the plastic parts of the hypodermics and scalpels would have been melted away. Of course, they weren’t. When something is treated with disinfectant or bleach like that, it doesn’t make one lick of difference if it is put into a bag with a bunch of stuff that isn’t.”
After discovering the first batch of medical waste in June 1999, Chasteen, in his typical commonsense approach to jobs, began keeping a diary. The diary contains a list of the types of medical waste he saw at Forest View that was not on truck manifests:
ð Needles (syringes) with and without blood or substances in them
ð Blood, blood bags, bloody lap tapes and sponges, gowns, gloves, tissue pieces, stitches
ð Used suture staples
ð Used operating room hardware — scalpels, balloon pumps, catheters
ð Used irrigation lines
ð Used prep pads
ð Used ventilator tubes, hoses, and miscellaneous lines
All of this, Chasteen reports, lay open, exposed to the elements.
According to Chasteen (PitchWeekly staff members were not allowed on the property for this story), the Forest View Landfill is built in a giant ravine, with huge berms rising 150 to 170 feet above the floor of the landfill adjacent to the Kansas River. Stormwater and snowmelt can run down the berms over trash in what is called the active area of the landfill — where trash was being delivered and buried. Precipitation can soak the trash and run off onto the floor or bench of the landfill, a flat space below the hills. A small road for trucks cuts the boundary at the end of the floor, and beyond the road is a ditch that runs into a nearby creek that flows into the Kansas River.
Earthworks were supposed to keep contaminated and uncontaminated stormwater from running together. The uncontaminated water, which simply ran down the berms’ bare slopes to the floor, could be pumped into the ditch past the haul road when the solids dropped out of it. Like a repulsive kind of tea, the stormwater that ran over the trash was supposed to be collected in separate ponds, then pumped into tank trucks and sent to a wastewater treatment plant.
Chasteen says the separation of contaminated and uncontaminated surface water runoff never occurred. “Instead of sending that runoff to the treatment plant, when the ponds filled up after a rain, to keep from breaching the pond dikes, they pumped that runoff right into the river,” he says.
One of the collection ponds was about 9 feet deep. Several smaller ponds also retain stormwater. But the ponds could not store all the stormwater runoff without being emptied from time to time. At Forest View, the ponds were frequently emptied directly over a small perimeter boundary and into a stream that runs into the Kansas River, Chasteen claims.
At first, Chasteen tolerated the situation, but then he began to regularly turn off pumps that moved stormwater from the collection ponds into the river. He says his job required him to pump leachate directly off the landfill liner — the liner collected any kind of liquid that seeped through the trash and garbage — into the river. “When they weren’t pumping it (leachate) into the river, they were watering the roads with it,” he says. “Now, what happens to what goes on the roads when it rains?” — it turns into stormwater runoff.
O’Brien says stormwater management facilities on the Forest View facility are like those of a large construction site. “The stormwater runs across areas where there is just soil and no vegetation,” he says. “The water collects in these sedimentation ponds, where the solids drop out. The clear water left is then discharged off the facility.”
Chasteen and the state alleged that Forest View did not handle contaminated stormwater correctly by pumping it out of collection ponds and sending it to a wastewater treatment facility. However, O’Brien says, “We still have meetings scheduled with the state on that issue. The leachate is infiltration from rain and snow. That material comes in contact with the garbage, collects on the liner, and is then pumped off and sent to wastewater. To say we do anything else with the leachate is incorrect.”
Always something amiss
When medical waste showed up unlisted or mixed with regular trash in trucks, Chasteen says, he was supposed to handle it like regular trash, although Kansas statutes say otherwise. He says he reached the point where he could no longer sit astride his bulldozer and believe he was doing the right thing.
Beginning with the random truck inspection in June 1999 that revealed unmarked medical waste, he began to gather records of trucks that came to the dump. He found that some truck manifests did not list medical waste the trucks contained. Some trucks had medical waste listed as only a part of their loads when the whole was medical waste. Then he began to notice other things. Oil-contaminated soil was not segregated the way it should have been. Medical wastes and contaminated soils weren’t covered immediately on their arrival. Chasteen began to take pictures to document what he saw out in the landfill.
The pictures reveal a bloody mess. Many photos are out of focus, but the colors tell the story. Bright red laces hospital blue. Plastic ventilator tubes, angioplasty balloons, and various hoses wind through bandages and sutures. Broken trash bags spill red streaks atop mounds of white and black trash bags, paper, processed food packages. Chasteen also snapped shots of deer, raccoon, and skunk tracks, along with those of song and water birds. The photos also show water being pumped from collection ponds into a drainage ditch that leads to a stream that empties into the Kansas River.
“When I first went to them, I just wanted to make management aware,” Chasteen says. “I thought I was acting in a level-headed, reasonable way. They didn’t seem to have any reason not to listen to me. I had gathered the information for them and wanted them to know. I didn’t think it was the fault of Waste Management that they were getting the stuff, but it was their fault that they kept accepting it.
“My boss, Junior Lamas, would tell us just to take care of it. Sometimes he said we would send the drivers away with a warning (about what would happen) the next time it happened. The problem was that we handled so many trucks of trash out there that it would be impossible to keep your eye out for a driver who was carrying a dirty load and warn them (about doing it again) next time.
“I really thought they didn’t know what was happening out there. The facility is not supposed to get this stuff, and I tried to tell them we were getting it.” He says the situation affected employee morale. “The management would tell us what the trucks had but did not look to make sure. They told us not to look, just do our jobs.”
Chasteen worked on his documentation from June 1999 until he was fired on Nov. 29. “I wanted to bring awareness to management,” he says. “General Manager Kevin O’Brien flipped when he saw the pictures and the documents.”
On June 28, according to Chasteen’s diary, Lamas told Chasteen and the other heavy equipment drivers at the Forest View landfill that Waste Management would send each of them to special training in the handling of contaminated and medical wastes. “We average 10 loads of waste a week…. All are noncompliable (in noncompliance with Kansas waste management statutes),” Chasteen wrote in his diary. “We have asked every week about the training…. We are being blown off.”
On Aug. 10, Chasteen wrote, “While cleaning trucks, I was stuck by a needle syringe and reported it to Jr. (Lamas) and told him then I was not doing it anymore…. I wanted to know why we have still been taking it (medical waste that was not in biohazard bags) and where was the training. I was told then, ‘Bull, I’m working on it, but don’t hold your breath.'” Chasteen was also told, he wrote, that O’Brien didn’t care about getting him and the other men the proper training for the handling of medical waste.
Then, on Nov. 18, Chasteen and fellow worker Fred Young refused to move a “bloody load” in a BFI truck until either Lamas or O’Brien saw and acknowledged it. “Jr. told us (to) push it or hit the gate,” Chasteen wrote. “We had to take it because the regs says its okay (Lamas said). I said they do not, and I’ll be glad to show him it does not say that.” According to Chasteen’s diary, Lamas jumped in his truck and sped off. Five minutes later, he radioed “‘not to touch the load.’ BFI came and hand loaded it. When I asked Jr. why don’t (sic) he make Waste Management pick their loads up also, he said, ‘Don’t push it, Bull.'”
It’s at that point, Chasteen wrote, he decided to get proof of the medical waste problem to show the company management that the law was being broken, to protect himself, and possibly to work to get the Kansas solid waste management statutes changed. He knew his job was on the line.
“I have been forced to break the law every day with my job at stake if I don’t,” he wrote in his diary. “I have been verbally cursed for doing it. I have been made to pump leachate into the river along with facility papers saying it was an ‘in-house’ dump (a discharge that would not affect the facility’s wastewater discharge permit, such as moving water from one collection pond to another).” Chasteen added that he had talked to company managers, who promised him personally that he and other employees would receive special training in handling infectious medical waste. “But K.O. (Kevin O’Brien) won’t do anything about it.”
Chasteen had often turned off the pumps that moved the stormwater into the Kansas River. But on Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving, he not only turned off the pumps, but he also dismantled the pump mechanisms. “We had a lot of rain that week,” he says. “The ponds were full. Water had begun to puddle up below the trash cells, and we dug small canals to get that water to run into the ponds. I knew they were going to pump all that water into the river. But I didn’t like it.”
Most human pathogens die outside the body quickly, and nearly all perish in just a few hours. But the presence of blood and tissue leads to bacteria and mold growth that can cause disease in humans, particularly if the water in contact with the rotting material is consumed or contacted directly. The creek near Forest View runs into the Kansas River, which feeds into the Missouri below the landfill. Kansas City, Mo.’s drinking water intake on the Missouri is about a mile and half upstream of the Kansas River junction. But cities downstream have to deal with problems related to untreated wastewater.
“Think about it a minute,” Chasteen says. “What would people do if they knew there was that kind of stuff in the water? Even if it is not infectious after a while, there are a number of other diseases that are related to dirty water. What about people using the river below the dump? What about the environment in general? If mosquitoes, raccoons, deer, and other animals get into that stuff, there is a possibility that some of that will be spread.”
When Chasteen returned to work on Nov. 26, he found that the pumps had been reassembled and had been running through the holiday. Several inches of rain had fallen Thanksgiving week, and Thanksgiving day was rainy as well. Chasteen says he was furious about the pumps’ being on again but had no idea how long they had been running. “The ponds were not close to spilling over, so they must have been running awhile,” he says.
That same day, Chasteen went to the scale house, where truck drivers turn in their manifests and weigh their trucks. He asked the Waste Management employee there for the records of the day’s medical waste loads. In one instance, a Waste Management employee signed a ticket on a load from the Bayer Corp. that indicates that 35 tons of medical waste was accepted at the landfill on Nov. 26.
Later that day, Chasteen says, he was called off his bulldozer and summoned to the employee meeting room, where Lamas confronted him. The employee in the scale house had told Lamas that Chasteen had copies of the manifests and profile sheets, and Lamas wanted them. “I said no,” Chasteen wrote in his diary. “I want to present my case. He said I could at 10 a.m. on Monday in the presence of K.O. and him. He then said, ‘I need those papers.’ Again, I said no. I was given them and he couldn’t have them. He said I was fired. I said if this is how you want to play, I’d take him to court. He then said I’m suspended ’til Monday at 10 a.m. He threatened to call the police if I didn’t give him the keys. I said, ‘I’m fired?’ Then he said yes. I made him sign a paper that I gave him the keys and left.”
On Nov. 29, Chasteen thought he had one last chance. He met with O’Brien and Lamas. But he says the decision had been made. If he did not return the papers, he would be fired. Chasteen walked out of the meeting.
Regular guy sets off earthquake
At 10:15 a.m., the same day, Chasteen contacted the KDHE, alleging mismanagement of stormwater runoff and the presence of medical waste at Forest View. The original complaint is a page of hand-scrawled notes that basically outline what Chasteen laid out in his diary. He told state officials he was fired that morning and listed some of the medical waste he said he had been handling in the landfill.
KDHE environmental scientist Ronald Smith, with the compliance and enforcement unit, says his department received the complaint. “We sent inspectors to the Forest View facility Nov. 30, 1999,” he says. “This type of complaint violation was important, so we got our people out there right away.”
Environmental technicians Rebecca Wenner and Curtis Lesslie with the KDHE Bureau of Waste Management Permits Section inspected the landfill. According to their inspection logs, Wenner and Lesslie inspected only items related to Chasteen’s complaint. They did not find problems related to medical waste that Chasteen thought were so important and that motivated him to act.
They did find that the landfill was generally operated in a safe manner but that stormwater and intermediate cover for trash was not handled properly. The log indicates that inspectors did not know whether the leachate system at Forest View was constructed correctly. They did find, however, that it was not operating correctly and that the facility did not have the proper permits to discharge leachate in a manner compliant with law.
KDHE officials Smith, Wenner, and District Environmental Administrator Julie Coleman met with Chasteen Dec. 3 concerning his complaint. At the meeting, Chasteen reiterated what he claimed in the complaint and answered questions from the officials. The KDHE did not consider the meeting a formal hearing, and the officials’ notes were not made public.
On Dec. 17, Lesslie sent a letter to Waste Management citing the Forest View facility for “exceeding the leachate head level at the Phase 6 leachate collection sump” for many weeks throughout 1999. This letter also expressed concern that the leachate collection system was not constructed in accordance with the approved plans. Inspectors found that leachate in the system had been allowed to remain at levels that exceeded state requirements.
KDHE inspectors’ logs and correspondence concerning the Nov. 30 inspection refer to “leachate head levels.” The amount of leachate on the liner can be measured through a system of manholes. If the leachate rises above the level of the liner, it will flow directly into groundwater. The leachate head level is determined by the depth of the liner and the drainage area and slopes of the landfill. The liner and leachate system must be able to contain all precipitation that seeps through the landfill. If a leachate head level is too high, a rainy period can cause the system to overflow. The company managing the landfill, in this case Waste Management, is responsible for monitoring leachate head levels and acting accordingly when the head levels exceed state-determined maximums.
In a Dec. 30, 1999, letter filed in the Waste Management of Kansas Inc. permit file at the KDHE, Lesslie wrote that inspectors arrived at the landfill at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 30 and asked to see Junior Lamas, who had agreed over the telephone to meet the inspectors at what is called the “active” portion of the landfill. “While we were unable to substantiate any of the allegations related to medical services waste, it was readily apparent that the facility was improperly managing contaminated stormwater,” Lesslie wrote.
Stormwater from the active area is collected in ponds in an area east of the edge of the landfill liner. “Since this was contaminated stormwater,” wrote Lesslie, “it should have been retained on the active area by runoff control berms and handled as leachate. Instead, as evidenced by pump hoses and tire tracks in the solid, the contaminated stormwater was pumped across the haul road to a large temporary stormwater collection pond (the large pond Chasteen speaks of) and subsequently pumped off the south edge of the landfill property … to the adjacent stream.”
The inspectors also found that part of the stormwater was pumped into a sedimentation pond that drained into the same stream that leads into the Kansas River. “Since the stormwater in the second pond consisted of contaminated water stormwater commingled with stormwater from undisturbed areas, it too should have been handled as contaminated stormwater,” Lesslie wrote.
In all, Chasteen’s complaint resulted in the Forest View facility’s being cited for inadequate run-on control (breached berm), runoff control (stormwater from the active area), and intermediate cover on a side slope above the landfill floor. Forest View also was cited for discharging contaminated stormwater rather than controlling it as leachate.
On March 7, after several months of investigation, document procurement, and inspection, the KDHE issued an administrative order directing Forest View to end all activity related to the citations and immediately fix the problems. The KDHE also levied a $79,000 fine for initial violations.
Waste Management has appealed the KDHE’s Order to Eliminate Pollution and Assessment of Penalty. “The facility is designed to comply with 1993 Kansas regulations,” O’Brien says. “Forest View has a state-of-the-art design, a monitoring system for leachate and methane gas production. It is a well-run facility. If you look back at records with the state, you will find Forest View has operated with the state since 1986 with a good record. It can operate without harm to the public and environment. We have had minimal complaints since the facility opened. It has a good track record, and we feel good about how the facility has operated in the past.”
Although the KDHE has been tight-lipped about the circumstances leading to the fine, Smith will say his department inspects landfills on a regular basis in conjunction with the annual renewal of the facility’s landfill permit. He also indicates that Forest View has had some problems in the past.
On June 4, 1997, KDHE inspectors found violations at the landfill, including not having the “working face” of trash properly compacted and not having adequate equipment available on-site for the proper operation of the facility. Inspectors also found inadequate cover on areas subject to wet weather. The facility also was unable to provide internal inspection logs for November 1996 and did not reduce the number of tires it took at the landfill to comply with a previous order.
The March 2000 KDHE order also refers to leachate level problems on Aug. 5, Sept. 4, and Dec. 11, 1998. In each instance, the company was notified of the violation. Each time, the KDHE was satisfied with Waste Management’s response — a letter from the company outlining efforts to rectify problems. The company promised it would either recirculate the excess leachate through the landfill or pump it off and send it to a wastewater treatment plant.
Because of the history of violations related to the inspection on Nov. 30, 1999, the KDHE issued the order and fine, deeming it necessary to take steps “to alleviate the potential hazard to the environment created by Forest View Recycling and Disposal facility’s violations of the solid waste statutes and regulations.”
Life ain’t trash
Chasteen now works driving a forklift at the Home Depot in Independence in the receiving department. He is again in control of a machine, though one smaller than a bulldozer.
After being fired from Forest View, Chasteen says, he took a job closer to his house. At Home Depot, he also serves as a community representative for the store. He works frequently on Habitat for Humanity house-building projects, in community recycling efforts, and in environmental cleanup. “It’s just a way to give back,” he says.
And that’s why Chasteen believes he must tell people about what happened at Forest View. Chasteen doesn’t look the least bit worried over losing his job driving bulldozers and other heavy equipment at the landfill. He says he did the right thing reporting violations of Kansas’ solid and medical waste disposal regulations. But, he says, he thought he would be able to be atop his bulldozer while the problems were worked out.
“It’s too bad I had to lose a great job,” he says, adjusting his orange Home Depot apron. “But I wouldn’t do anything different.”
He feels that there is plenty of animosity toward him at Forest View. He thinks it’s typical that O’Brien would call him a “disgruntled ex-employee.”
“Hell,” Chasteen says, laughing, “I wasn’t ex-anything until I brought the problems forward. But I wasn’t going to stand for what was happening out there, even if I was going to be the only one to stand up and say something. It’s a matter of principle I am willing to live with — that I have to live with.”
Back at his house, Chasteen says he still hunts and fishes. He is a lifetime member of Ducks Unlimited. On his basement floor sits a pile of empty 12-gauge shotgun shells under a mounted deer head. “I shoot a lot of trap on the weekends,” he says. “I do all my own reloading.” On a short file cabinet next to a modest desk sits a duck mounted on what, from a distance, looks to be a mossy puddle. “This is one of my prize possessions. I got this mallard last year in Missouri and had it done by a guy in North Kansas City who does taxidermy in his garage.”
Chasteen holds the stand and turns the duck in the light from a small lamp on his desk. It is a nearly perfect mount. The feathers are unruffled, the bill and eyes stoic. In the future, he says, he would like to go back to the Northwest and find a job that will support him and his growing family. “I love it up there.” But Chasteen’s family might stay awhile in Missouri.
“Oh, hey! I just found out today,” he says as a smile spreads across his face, “we’re going to have a baby.” He makes the pronouncement like he knows what the future is all about.
Contact Patrick Dobson at 816-218-6777 or firstname.lastname@example.org.