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Mississippi county fights BP over oil spill waste being dumped in landfill

By the CNN Wire Staff
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BP dumping waste in Mississippi?
  • Mississippi county estimates that 1,200 tons of byproduct has been dumped
  • County threatening injunction if another disposal method is not found
  • Landfill operator agrees to keep waste in staging area pending negotiations

(CNN) -- What happens to all the tar balls, oily sand and vegetation, and soiled gloves and suits from the thousands of temporary BP workers who've been working to clean up beaches along the Gulf of Mexico?

It's being dumped in nine landfills along the Gulf coast, under agreements involving BP, landfill operators and the Unified Command, the federal agencies overseeing the cleanup efforts.

But some communities are not happy about it, amid fears of soil and water contamination, and one local government is fighting back.

Supervisors in Harrison County, Mississippi, where the Pecan Grove Landfill is based, have been fuming over what the county estimates is 1,200 tons of oil-tainted byproduct dumped there.

The board of supervisors passed a resolution this summer not to accept BP waste.

That effort didn't go far, because the landfill is owned and operated by a Mississippi company, Waste Management, which answers to the state.

But now, Waste Management has agreed not to dump more waste there, instead keeping it in huge bins in a nearby "staging area" pending further talks with local officials.

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The company, BP representatives and federal and local officials are holding more talks Thursday, according to Tim Holleman, an attorney for the board of supervisors.

And the board has instructed Holleman to prepare an injunction to stop the dumping if the negotiations don't end in an agreement.

Holleman said he couldn't tip his hand on all the legal arguments that might be employed in an injunction.

But one argument is that dumping the waste in landfills is the "least preferred" option under a series of disposal methods outlined under the Unified Command's waste management plan. It's also one of the easiest.

"It's sort of like throwing a can of trash in your front yard, then picking it up and throwing it in your backyard and saying you're sorry," Holleman said.

He said a far more effective method would be to incinerate the waste. And in fact, another company in Mississippi specializes in just that.

Waste Oil Collectors Inc. of Gautier, Mississippi, wrote Holleman several weeks ago, describing a process in which the waste is shredded into uniform bits and then incinerated at 2,500 degrees in a kiln.

That recovers energy from the waste and breaks it down into mineral components, some of which can be used in asphalt.

Waste Management says that all the oil waste that has been stored at the landfill is classified as "non-hazardous," after being tested by the EPA and the Mississippi Bureau of Environmental Quality. It adds that there is a liner underneath the landfill, and groundwater there is monitored.

"You don't bring anything to a landfill unless it's been tested," said Ken Haldin, director of communications for Waste Management. "We would not be bringing anything to a landfill unless it hadn't been profiled."

Waste Management also operates landfills that have been receiving oil waste in Mobile County in Alabama and Jackson County in Florida.

Haldin said he's unaware of any local controversies at those other two landfills.

"All of our processes have been running smoothly," he said.

But local officials in Harrison County aren't easily assured. They point out that 250 homes are within a half-mile of the landfill.

And a supervisors meeting Monday didn't go all that smoothly.

"That landfill is in Harrison County for our waste," Supervisor William Martin said. "That's why it was built there. And now to allow BP to put all this waste in it, it's wrong."

It didn't help that a BP representative at the meeting did not have the authority to commit to anything. The representative was sent home.

"We have that landfill space available for municipal use and not for a company that's been negligent," said Connie Rocko, president of the board of supervisors.

Rocko dryly notes that although the waste is classified as not hazardous, the workers who collect it wear protective suits.

"We know that there are alternatives available, and we want BP and Waste Management to use those alternatives," she said.