Sunday, 12 April 2015

Langlee's lethal mixture of hazardous gases


The rotting rubbish beneath the Borders landfill site at Easter Langlee has sent more than eleven million kilograms of harmful methane gas into the atmosphere during the last ten years, according to figures compiled by Not Just Sheep and Rugby from Scottish Environment Protection Agency files.

It is worth bringing the alarming statistics to public attention at this time in the wake of last week's revelations that traces of the deadly greenhouse gas from the Galashiels waste tip had halted development on the largest new housing project in the Borders.

News reports in the local press described how during recent borehole investigations on the perimeter of the 500-house development site scientists had discovered concentrations of methane and carbon dioxide.

Scottish Borders Council has failed to deliver a waste treatment facility at Easter Langlee to cut the amount of trash going to landfill despite various initiatives since the project first received planning permission in 2002. And it could be at least three or four years before a plant can be commissioned, approved and constructed.

Meanwhile the site continues to emit a lethal mixture of methane, CFCs, HCFCs and methyl chloroform. Methane is considered to be among the worst of the greenhouse gases. Its global warming potential is 21 times greater than carbon dioxide. To make matters worse  the Greenhouse Gas Inventory is about to uprate the potency of methane from 21 times to 25 (possibly 26) that of CO2.

So what is the precise nature of Easter Langlee's contribution in terms of possible environmental damage? Quite considerable, it would appear.

The reporting threshold for methane - the level at which local authorities and other waste disposers must notify SEPA about the size of emissions - is 10,000 kilograms per annum.

In 2013 alone Easter Langlee's annual methane emissions total was 300,000 kg, 30 times above that reporting threshold. But that was one of the lower methane outputs from the landfill site. In 2004, 2007 and 2008 the figure exceeded two million kilograms on each occasion with the million kilogram mark exceeded by some distance in 2005 and 2006. The annual average during the last decade has been 1.1 million kilograms.

The SEPA information site informs us that methane has a "life" of ten years. It adds: "On a local scale a build-up of methane poses an explosion hazard which can result in evacuation over old landfills or mines. The UK's biggest source of methane is from rotting rubbish in landfill."

Meanwhile Easter Langlee's production levels of chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) must also be a cause for considerable concern.

The reporting threshold for these substances, with their potential to destroy the ozone layer, is just one kilogram per year. The SEPA records show varying levels of CFCs being emitted at Langlee from 94.1 kg in 2007 down to 11.7 kg in 2009. The most recent figure was 27.5 kg in 2013.

The HCFC column varies from 39.8 kg in 2007 to 12.2 kg in 2009 with a 2013 return of 26.5 kg.

To complete the picture, emissions of methyl chloroform with a potential to contaminate water courses and accumulate in aquatic life, were above the reporting threshold of 10 kg per annum in six out of the last seven years with the highest reading in 2007 at 43.3 kg.

One environmental expert told us: "From these statistics it is abundantly clear that the Borders needs to get its waste management sorted out. The region should already have a facility capable of diverting significant amounts of rubbish from landfill which would also bring down these emission levels considerably."

FOOTNOTE: It has been estimated a cow produces an average of 100 kilograms of methane in a year. So it would require a herd of 11,000 cattle to match Easter Langlee's average output of 1.1 million kilograms of methane.

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