The Dangers of Landfill Leaks and the Toxic Chemicals That You May Be Exposed To

Until we find a better way to dispose of solid waste, landfills will be a necessary evil. What are the risks to people and the environment when landfills leak? The University of Colorado reports that there are more than 3,00 active landfills and 10,000 closed landfills across the United States. Although federal law requires landfills to have liners made of plastic or clay, the liners can leak. 

You need to know about the dangers of landfill leaks and the toxic chemicals that you may be exposed to as a result. If you or a loved one suffered negative health consequences from landfill leaks, a mass tort lawyer might be able to help you seek compensation for your losses.

An Overview of Leachate

When landfills leak, they can create a liquid called leachate. Leachate contaminates the soil and water sources in the area. There are high levels of several toxic chemicals in leachate, including mercury. Leachate can also contain high amounts of ammonia, which can produce nitrates when it enters the local environment. 

Nitrates can cause “dead zones” in affected water sources through a process called eutrophication. When high amounts of nitrates enter water sources, plant growth increases, which depletes the water of oxygen. Without sufficient oxygen, animals in the water die due to the lack of oxygen. 

The chemicals in the leachate will depend on the trash and other waste dumped in the landfill. In addition to the obvious toxins found in landfills that accept hazardous waste, leachate from standard landfills often contains solvents, heavy metals, phenols, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen, and chloride.

Potential Toxicity of Landfill Leachate

A 2021 study revealed that leachate from municipal landfills can infiltrate groundwater with toxic chemicals, according to an article in the National Library of Medicine. The study found that landfill leachate can contain chemicals that are cytotoxins. The researchers recommended that leachate from landfills have ongoing monitoring because of the potential health hazards for both humans and the entire exposed environment. 

Toxic Chemicals from Landfill Leaks into Groundwater

When toxic chemicals get into groundwater, they can cause severe health consequences for humans. Contaminated wells can be lethal for people who get their drinking water from those sources.

For example, the contaminated drinking water wells at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) New River in North Carolina has made many military veterans and their families eligible for disability benefits because of the harm they suffered from exposure to the chemicals in the on-base water, according to the Veterans Administration (VA). The military presumes that these medical conditions were the result of exposure to chemicals in the drinking water:

  • Cancers, including adult leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and cancer of the bladder, kidney, and liver;
  • Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes; and
  • Parkinson’s disease.

The on-base water wells contained these chemicals:

  • Trichloroethylene (TCE)
  • Benzene
  • Vinyl chloride
  • Perchloroethylene (PCE) 
  • Other chemical compounds.

If you or a family member developed a medical condition from exposure to chemicals that leaked out of landfills, you will want to talk to a mass torts lawyer about your legal options. For help with your case get in touch with our office today, we offer a free consultation.