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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances

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Landfill Leachate in Alluvial Aquifers -- Norman, Oklahoma [Completed]

Two photos of scientists conducting chemical analyses onsite and in a mobile laboratory.
USGS scientists conducting chemical analyses on site and in an onsite mobile laboratory at the Norman Landfill, Oklahoma. In order to predict how long landfill leachate will continue to contaminate groundwater after a landfill is closed, it is critical to understand how effective natural processes are in removing those contaminants over time.

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Water that infiltrates and percolates through landfills produces leachate, which may contain undesirable and toxic chemicals. The character of the leachate depends to a large degree on the type of waste stored and the hydrologic and chemical conditions of the landfill. Construction practices for modern landfills has significantly reduced the threat of leachate contaminating water resources. Although the number of landfills in the United States has decreased steadily from 8,000 in 1988 to 1,767 in 2002, landfills are much larger and total landfill capacity has remained relatively constant. Furthermore, some historic landfill still pose a risk of environmental contamination. Toxics Program research focuses on a subsurface leachate plume in an alluvial aquifer adjacent to a municipal landfill near Norman, Oklahoma. The landfill accepted municipal wastes for more than 60 years until it closed in 1985. Ground water at the site is contaminated by dozens of organic compounds, many of which are toxins and carcinogens. Investigations at the site focus on the interactions between the contaminant plume, the aquifer, and the river. The study results will be readily transferable to numerous municipal landfills across the country.

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