Asbestos fears prompt NAACP landfill meeting

By Greg Gelpi

Although plans for a Riverdale landfill are only months from completion, the Clayton County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People isn't prepared to just sit back and watch.

President Dexter Matthews has scheduled a town hall meeting to discuss the planned landfill that will use the hole left from blasting for construction of the fifth runway at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The landfill is located north of Flat Shoals Road and west of Ga. Highway 85.

"I think the county is washing its hands of it, but we haven't given up yet," Matthews said.

The "construction and demolition" landfill would be limited to waste from any construction, demolition or renovation, Timothy Earl, a program manager with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, said. Although the landfill wouldn't include household garbage or anything classified as "hazardous," it could include asbestos.

The possibility of asbestos has Matthews worried and concerned enough to call upon the community to discuss the issue and consult professionals about the health and safety of such a landfill.

"We think there might be asbestos," Matthews said. "We think the best thing to do is to not have any landfill."

John Stephens, the president of MDS, the company that owns the landfill, said he hasn't been contacted by Matthews or heard comments from the public either in favor or against the project.

"We're going to have some public meetings that are going to be starting soon," Stephens said.

Although it's the company's first landfill, he said there is no reason for the public to be concerned.

"We're moving through the channels of the state EPD," Stephens said. "We're going to meet every standard that we're supposed to meet."

Earl said the process to get state approval for a landfill is a "lengthy" one and that the MDS landfill has reached a "landmark" for getting the approval.

The project has already gotten the "stamp" of approval from a professional geologist and received a site suitability report, he said.

Clayton College & State University professor Jacqueline Jordan, who holds a doctorate in toxicology, said any asbestos stored in the landfill "shouldn't have much affect" on people unless it becomes airborne.

Asbestos consists of small fibers that can be inhaled and cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, which may not appear for 30 years, Jordan said. Problems occur with exposure over time, particularly with older people, who are "more susceptible" because of weaker immune systems.

"From a landfill, it's not being released on a regular basis, so the toxicity should be low," Jordan said.

Problems could arise, though, if asbestos leaks into the water supply or becomes airborne, she said.

Clayton County Long Range Planner Theresa Crow said the Clayton County Board of Commissioners approved the landfill in January 2001 and approved an expansion of the landfill in April 2003.

Earl said that the landfill will be required to have a 200-foot buffer from the landfill itself to the property line and a 500-foot buffer from residences and residential drinking wells.

"They were saying that the landfill is better for the community than the blasting site," he said, but offered his own suggestions for the land. "The county could buy it and use it for green space or use it for parking."

Stephens said the landfill, which will actually be smaller than 160 acres, should be open sometime toward the end of the year.

The privately-owned landfill can accept waste from anyone, Earl said. Legally, waste can't be prevented from crossing city or county lines.

The NAACP town hall meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 20 at Martin Luther King Elementary School.

The landfill issue, though, isn't Matthews' only concern. The town hall meeting will also cover blasting for the fifth runway, fuel falling from planes passing overhead and other health and safety issues.