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Landfills Are an Impending and Ignored Danger for Coastal Waters

As sea levels rise, thousands of leaking coastal landfills will destroy marine ecosystems that protect against climate change.

The enlightened engineering that solved London's 'Great Stink' -- the sewage problem in the River Thames -- in the 19th century is what we need today to deal with the coastal landfill crisis.”
— Llewellyn King
WASHINGTON DC, UNITED STATES, August 4, 2021 / -- As sea levels rise, the landfills along the U.S. coasts present an impending environmental catastrophe.

There are 100,000 landfills across the country, and 50,000 of them lie along the coasts, waiting to have their toxic contents released into vulnerable coastal waters. But the local municipalities that are legally responsible for these landfills don’t have the funds or political vision to fix the looming crisis.

This crisis is the subject of this week’s “White House Chronicle,” the weekly news and public affairs program, airing nationwide on PBS and SiriusXM Radio. Host Llewellyn King and Co-host Linda Gasparello interview Dave Lindorff, the award-winning investigative journalist who wrote about coastal landfills in the Aug. 9-16 edition of The Nation.

“Leaking landfills that pollute wetlands, whether they hold incinerator ash known to be contaminated with the highly toxic chemical dioxin or rotting garbage and miscellaneous wastes, are the last thing that already stressed sea life needs as it confronts a host other environmental stressors and crises, including rising water temperatures, depleted oxygen levels, ocean acidification, and a withering food chain,” Lindorff said.

He added: “But unless an epic national campaign is mounted soon to start relocating landfills, or unless the world takes drastic action to significantly reduce atmospheric carbon and slow climate change, the thousands of landfills dotting the U.S. coastline are on track to be overcome by rising seas – toxic waste and all.”

In his article, and on the episode, Lindorff cited Rumney Marsh, site of the nation’s oldest incinerator, in Saugus, MA, as a landfill that is no match for the rising sea. “Just imagine that landfill as an island, leaking its toxic contents into the sea. Sadly, it will be the end of the marshes and the fish and wildlife,” he said on the episode.

According to Lindorff, there is little research on coastal landfills that gives insight into the scale of the issue. While researching his article, he found just one study of Norfolk, VA, and another conducted in the United Kingdom, which found that the sea-facing edges of some of their landfill sites are already spilling lead, asbestos, and toxic chemicals into their waters.

On the episode, Lindorff cited The Philippines, Indonesia and China as having huge, coastal landfills that are destroying marine ecosystems.

“The issue of leaking coastal landfills should be high on the agenda at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, in November,” said Gasparello.

King pointed to the fact that the River Thames was awash in sewage in the 19th century. “In fact, the river was a cesspool, known as “The Great Stink.” But British engineering and technology came to the rescue: Engineers narrowed the river, through dredging and building up its banks, and they started treating the sewage. This kind of enlightened engineering is what we need today to deal with the coastal landfill crisis,” he said.

The “White House Chronicle” episode with Dave Lindorff will air beginning Aug. 6 on PBS and other television outlets; and Aug. 7 and 8 on SiriusXM Radio’s P.O.T.U.S., Channel 124.

"White House Chronicle" airs nationwide on select PBS and public, educational and government (PEG) channels. It also airs on SiriusXM Radio's P.O.T.U.S. (Politics of the United States), Channel 124. It airs worldwide on Voice of America Television and Radio in English and translated into Chinese.

For more information, contact Llewellyn King, executive producer and host of "White House Chronicle," at (202) 441-2702.

Llewellyn King
White House Media LLC
+1 202-441-2702
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