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Nora Le
Jaya Dubey
Writing 39C
13 Apr. 2014
Landfills: Only a Temporary Solution
When waste is dumped, where exactly does it go? People think that once their wastes are
out of sight and out of mind, there is nothing left to worry about. Unfortunately, these problems
do not just magically disappear. There are many different kinds of wastes, varying from toxic to
perfectly harmless. The real problems reveal itself when the waste is mixed and compacted
altogether in a landfill. There are approximately seven major landfills in the Los Angeles,
California area that trash is sent to. While the active landfills are gradually becoming larger, the
inactive landfills still pose a problem by leaking runoff into oceans and creating gas emissions
that add to the already deteriorated state of air quality in L.A. In the beginning, the government
thought that filling in voids of land with trash heaps would solve the problem of massive waste,
and it did briefly. However, they did not think of the long term effects that the landfills would
cause, effects that have lasted decades and that residents are still dealing with today.
To learn about the true extent of the problem, you would have to go back to when it first
started. The first modern sanitary landfill to ever be opened in the United States was the Fresno
Municipal Sanitary Landfill, which was opened in Fresno, California in 1937. The landfill is
approximately 140 acres, roughly 106 American football fields. The size of these landfills are
massive; they are not just the everyday junk heap in your local waste management site. Anything
and everything can be packed into landfills, including plastics, metal containers, leather, rubber,
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wood, and even household cleaners, chemicals and pesticides. Landfills work by compacting
waste into cubes and stacking them whilst layering soil and grass between them. Most landfills
are packed so tightly that wastes are not able to biodegrade as well as it should due to the lack of
oxygen reaching it. If certain chemicals are introduced to other wastes, for example petroleum
and any form of plastic, it could result in a clog that is no longer biodegradable and can be stuck
in the landfill for an extensive amount of time. Not only is this bad for the environment, but it is
not sustainable in the long run. Though the Los Angeles area has less than ten major landfills, the
sheer size of the landfills surely makes up for it. The most notable landfills lie in the counties of
Puente Hills, Chiquita Canyon, Sunshine Canyon, Scholl Canyon, and Antelope Valley.
When the Fresno Municipal Sanitary Landfill was established, California legislators and
government officials were only thinking of the problem at the time: how to deal with massive
amounts of trash that were piling up. Though regulation was enforced in later years, the
accumulation of wastes had grown ten-fold. Since there is so much waste to deal with, there is
not enough management to process it all. This leads to problems such as the release of landfill
gasses, the production of leachate, and the
greenhouse effect. Many people do not
realize the extent of this growing problem.
Everyone just wants to set it aside and let
it build up to be even more a problem for
future generations. In 2012,
approximately nine million tons of waste
were disposed of in the Los Angeles area.
While it is a great improvement from
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nearly 12.5 million tons of disposed waste in 2005, the problem of decomposing waste from
previous years still exists. Since the beginning of the establishment of landfills, homeowners
have been concerned with the dangers of health and overall unpleasantness of living near a
landfill. Los Angeles Times articles dating back to the 80s voice the concerns of residents.
As the landfill slowly decomposes, emissions are sent up into the atmosphere. The
Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) measures the rates for each gas that is being produced,
for example, gasses like methane, carbon dioxide and any other air pollutant. Though landfill
gasses are not only a nuisance to the public with their pungent odors, these gases can also
severely affect the respiratory systems of those who are the most vulnerable. In a two mile radius
of the landfill, children can be born with birth defects and are often hospitalized for respiratory
problems. According to the EPA, when gas
generation reaches steady state conditions,
[landfill gasses] consists of approximately 40
percent by volume [carbon dioxide]

, 55
percent [methane], 5 percent [nitrogen gas]
(and other gases), and trace amounts of
[nonmethane organic compounds]. The
graph shows that landfill emissions account
for 18% of methane emissions, which are the
second most prevalent greenhouse gas in the
United States. Brendan Schlauch writes in his article on Governing, Methane is one of the most
potent greenhouse gases: Its 20 to 25 times more powerful in trapping heat in the atmosphere
than carbon dioxide. Not only does methane cause foul, pungent odors, it is also an irritant to
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the eyes, and this rising gas cloud also decreases property value in the surrounding area. Though
The Los Angeles Times has reported that an odor patrol has been dispatched at the Sunshine
Canyon Landfill in Granada Hills to monitor the pungent odors set on by landfill emissions, it
has been mocked by locals for being a sham and having zero credibility. Officials are trying
to control the odors, but to no avail. On the bright side, however, attempts are being made to
convert the greenhouse gases emitted from landfills to renewable energy. This is revolutionary
because by recycling the huge amounts of waste that we produce each year, we are able to
provide new sources of electricity and other means of energy. According to Waste Management,
550 megawatts of electricity are produced by means of landfills, which is enough to power more
than 440,000 homes.
Besides the greenhouse gases that are emitted from landfills, leachate is also released into
the soil. Leachate is water that has passed through solids and has extracted solutes within it. This
acidic black sludge can contaminate ground water and soil making it impossible for plants to
grow. This leachate is also able to run off into the ocean and pollute it even further. There is also
a carcinogen named TCE typically found in landfill leachate, and less than four drops of TCE
can make 20,000 gallons of water undrinkable. Leachate can be very harmful if the substances
that cross are toxic, for example batteries or used needles with water. The leachate can be passed
to plants and to animals, further harming society. At the moment, leachate can only be recycled
by funneling it back into landfill sites to further wet the waste to increase the speed of
decomposition. However, this is a risky tactic because the underground collection system must
be sturdy enough to withstand the acidity of the leachate, but no matter how careful the process
is there will always be some leakage of the leachate into the surrounding soil.
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Many cities are aiming for a zero waste policy. David Ferry, a writer for The Wall
Street Journal, writes in his article that, Zero waste doesnt necessarily mean no waste. What
cities are aiming for is to reduce 90% of the waste that goes into landfills by diverting it without
the use of incinerators. Los Angeles may not yet be as green of a city as San Francisco which has
77% diverted waste from landfills. Los Angeles on the other hand only has 65%. However,
thanks to recent laws, such as Assembly Bill 341 signed by Governor Brown on October 6, 2011,
that states that at least 75% or more of solid waste must be source reduced, recycled or
composted by the year 2020, Los Angeles is
slowly improving. Los Angeles legislators and
government officials have not advocated
greener ways. Some cities, such as San
Francisco, have taken a huge step towards
greener living by banning the excessive use of
plastic bags in grocery stores. As of 2011, the
population of the Greater Los Angeles area
amounts to approximately 18,081,569. As the population of Los Angeles increases, more
resources are being used, and therefore more waste is being produced. The graph to the right
shows Los Angeles more than tripling the amount of annual disposals than other cities. Most of
the waste is added to landfills in the area, which were already massive to begin with.
If Los Angeles legislators and officials refuse to address the problem of landfill emissions
and leachate runoff for what it really is, the problem will continue to grow and get even more out
of hand than it already is. Millions of pounds of trash and waste has slowly accumulated
underneath the major Los Angeles landfills for years. This problem is a ticking time bomb in
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disguise, and we will be taken off guard when we realize it has been too late to undo the damage
that has already been done. However, if we were to obey the laws for greener living as soon as
possible, the damage is not completely irreparable. It takes time for a problem of this magnitude
to be solved, but if we start taking steps towards becoming a greener and more sustainable city,
we will be able to preserve the greater Los Angeles area for future generations.

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Works Cited
Anwar, Liyna. "Closing America's Largest Landfill, Without Taking Out The Trash."
NPR. NPR, 22 Feb. 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.
"Do Biodegradable Items Really Break Down in Landfills?"
Environmental Issues. Earth Talk, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
Ewall, Mike. "Landfill Gas-to-Energy: Toxic and Bad for the Climate... Not
Green or Renewable." Energy Justice Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.
Ferry, David. The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 12 Sept. 2011.
Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
"How Is Leachate Managed in a Landfill? - Curiosity." Curiosity. Discovery, n.d. Web. 29 Apr.
Hsu, Tiffany. "Clean-power Projects Turn Landfills' Methane into Electricity." Los Angeles
Times. Los Angeles Times, 14 Aug. 2010. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
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Jadhav, Aparna. "Harmful Effects of Landfills." Buzzle., 06 May 2011. Web. 16
Apr. 2014.
Kuebler, Bruce W. "Water Threat." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 16 Feb.
1990. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.
"Important Things to Know About Landfill Gas." Important Things to Know About Landfill Gas.
N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.
"Landfill and Litter." Landfill and Litter. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2014.
"Landfill Problems." Landfill Problems. WeGreen USA, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.
"Landfill Statistics in the U.S... Staggering." Think Outside The Bin. N.p., 30
Nov. 2010. Web. 16 Apr. 2014. <
Lee, G. Fred. Effectiveness of the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts' Groundwater
Barriers in Preventing Puente Hills Landfill Leachate from Polluting San Gabriel Basin
Groundwater Aquifer System. Los Angeles: n.p., 21 June 1993. PDF.
"Los Angeles County Disposal Asociation." Los Angeles County Disposal Asociation.
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N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014. <
Osterath, Brigette. "Landfill Leachate A Dangerous iquid. :: News. N.p., 16 Dec. 2010. Web.
29 Apr.
"Projects across USA Turn Landfill Gas into Energy -" Projects across USA
Turn Landfill
Gas into Energy - N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
Schlauch, Brendan. "Methane from Landfills." Methane from Landfills.
Governing, 31 Aug. 2009. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
Simmons, Ann M. "Landfill's New Odor Patrols Have the Right Scents Ability."
Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 11 Feb. 2012. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
"Think Green." Renewable Energy. Waste Management, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
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"What Is Leachate?" Scott Environmental Group Environmental Cleaning Services .
Scott Environmental Group, 16 Aug. 2012. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
Vincenz, Jean. "A Guide to Historic Architecture in Fresno, California." Fresno Sanitary
Landfill (Fresno,
California). N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014. <>.
Vrijheid, M. "Abstract." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library
Medicine, 19 Aug. 0005. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.

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Source Evaluations
Kuebler, Bruce W. "Water Threat." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 16 Feb.
1990. Web. 14 Apr. 2014.
Though this news article may be from the late 80s, it still shows how landfill leachate and
improper ways of disposing waste were as big of an issue then as they are now. Written by Bruce
W. Kuebler, the article responds to the way landfill runoff is treated nonchalantly. He states that
even though there may be no contaminants now, there is still reason to fear for it in the future.
We are able to trust his credibility because he states that he is an engineer in charge at the Water
Quality Division in the Department of Water and Power in the City of Los Angeles. This article
would likely be read by environmentalists concerned by the run off of leachate.
"Public Health, Safety and the Environment." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency,
18 Nov. 2013. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.
This government website provides credible answers to frequently asked questions about
the effects of landfills. This is not an independent website and the Environmental Protection
Agency is funded by the government. The article provides answers for questions involving
health-related issues and what the EPA is planning to do to for further protection of the people
and the environment. I plan to use this article to focus on the EPAs strategies for protection.
"Important Things to Know About Landfill Gas." Important Things to Know About Landfill Gas.
N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2014.
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Though this source is written for a different state, it is good to notice that the problem
with landfills is not just focused in the Los Angeles area. People are able to see that this problem
is widespread and affects many other areas as well. This article specifically focuses on the
dangers of the gas emissions from landfills. Gases rise up into the atmosphere and are able to
seep into enclosed buildings. This is a trusted source because it comes straight from the
Department of Health in New York.

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Annotated Bibliography
Ferry, David. The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 12 Sept. 2011.
Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
David Ferry, an article writer for The Wall Street Journal, writes about how cities in
America strive for an urban policy of zero waste. He provides the definition of what zero
waste truly means and provides graphs for reference. He lists the most eco-friendly cities in the
United States to provide examples.
Schlauch, Brendan. "Methane from Landfills." Methane from Landfills.
Governing, 31 Aug. 2009. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
Brendan Schlauch writes for the online magazine website Governing. His article focuses
mainly on the impact of methane emitted by landfills. His article provides factual information
and examples of different cities within the United States. Not only does he state how terrible of a
greenhouse gas methane is, he goes on to provide proof using statistics of different landfills.
Simmons, Ann M. "Landfill's New Odor Patrols Have the Right Scents Ability."
Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 11 Feb. 2012. Web. 29 Apr. 2014.
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Ann M. Simmons is an article writer for the Los Angeles Times. Using specific quotes
from eye witnesses, she is able to provide solid proof of the pungent odors emitted by landfills.
She has interviewed more than one person is able to state their exact words in her article.
Vincenz, Jean. "A Guide to Historic Architecture in Fresno, California." Fresno Sanitary
Landfill (Fresno,
California). N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014. <>.
Jean Vincenz, designer, writes about the history of the Fresno Sanitary Landfill,
providing exact measurements and size of the landfill. The source is published on an
organizations website to provide information on historic architecture in Fresno, California. The
source provides a sequence of important events that have happened to the landfill.