By Nicole Matthews
Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com
Solid waste disposal is a major environmental issue faced by countries around the world. For small islands such as Guam the problems that come with solid waste disposal are especially demanding due to the limited amount of space available and the close proximity to bodies of water that flow into the ocean.
One dumpsite that has been a consistent source of pollution is the Ordot Dump. First used by the Japanese during their occupation of Guam in World War II, the dump was a consistent source of environmental pollution until its closure in 2008. In fact, it was not until 45 years after its initial use that the dump was marked as harmful to the environment under the Clean Water Act of 1972.
Specifically, in 1986, it was discovered that the Ordot Dump was leaking leachate, water that seeps through the solid waste and collects the chemical compounds it comes in contact with. This leachate was seeping into Pago Bay, one of the major sources of drinking water for the island’s inhabitants.
Recognizing the potential health impacts presented by the dump, the Guam Department of Public Works (GDPW) was ordered to shut down the Ordot facility and replace it with an alternate site, as well as implement a progressive waste disposal/recycling system. A new site was chosen, and the Layon Landfill was constructed within four years. Although a relatively short-term solution, the Layon site is estimated to have a capacity that will serve the inhabitants of Guam for thirty years.
The Layon Landfill contains a double liner system with a built in leak detection. Such preventive technologies serve to eliminate groundwater contamination and gas release (due to anaerobic decomposition of waste materials) from the site. Although the Layon Landfill closely follows EPA regulations, there is never an absolute guarantee that harmful contaminants will not be released into the surrounding environment. For example, the risk of sedimentary and groundwater contamination, as well as methane release is still a possibility.
The issues faced by Guam regarding the two landfills pose questions for other island nations facing waste disposal issues. The Layon Landfill represents a temporary fix to a critical long-term problem. It will be interesting to see what kinds of solutions other island communities develop in the future.
Author Bio: Nicole Matthews is a freshman working toward a bachelor’s degree in Political Science in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College. After graduating, she plans to pursue a graduate degree in environmental law and policy.
Delfin, Joanna. “Environmental Story: History of the Ordot Dump.” Guambusinessmagazine.com. Guam Business Magazine, May 2012. Web. 9 May 2012.
“Ordot Dump and Layon Landfill.” Guamsolidwastereceiver.org. Gersham, Brickner, & Bratton, Inc., 2012. Web. 8 May 2012.
Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.
Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg,, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.