To Leachate or Not? That is the Political Question

Oct. 27—At Monday night's Somerset City Council Meeting, a boisterous larger-than-usual crowd filled the small Council Chambers. Towards the end of the meeting, the one-sided crowd voiced their concerns about the city's practice of bringing in and processing out-of-town leachate.

For those that don't know what leachate is, which included myself, it is defined as any contaminated liquid that is generated from water percolating through a solid waste disposal site, accumulating contaminants, and moving into subsurface areas. A second source of leachate arises from the high moisture content of certain disposed wastes.

Leachate is generated in landfill, then collected, and treated by one or more of the following strategies depending on various parameters: on-site treatment and discharge, on-site pretreatment followed by off-site treatment, or is transported via tanker truck or pumped directly through a pipe to off-site wastewater treatment facility.

In the case of Somerset, the leachate comes in from an out-of town landfill, is then treated in the local Sinking Creek Pretreatment Facility before it enters Pitman Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The Somerset leachate topic was brought up by McCreary County resident and podcaster Darlene Price at Monday's council meeting. The group questioned why the city took on leachate? However, the two times Price came to the city council to bring up the leachate topic was right before the Primary and the General Elections.

So it sort of seems like their concerns were politically driven. Both Girdler and Price have listed a variety of chemicals in the city's waterway and the health dangers with those chemicals. However, their concerns cropped up over two years after the city of Somerset started taking in leachate.

In Price's opening statement to the City Council on Monday, she introduced the latest EPA findings on the affects and health risks of forever chemicals (also known as PFAS or per- and polyfluoralkyl substances).

PFAS are widely-used, long lasting chemicals whose components break down very slowly over time, says the US EPA, which adds that they can be found in the blood of people and animals all over the world and are present at low levels in various food products as well as in the environment.

As Price stated, even small doses of forever chemicals have been linked to many serious health conditions. Price claimed that forever chemicals are notoriously found in industrial landfills. While that statement may be true, PFAS can also be found almost anywhere in our normal daily lives.

PFAS can come from products ranging from fast-food wrappers, cleaning products, non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpet and candy bar papers. The EPA website indicates nearly 10,000 chemicals in this category, some of which are showing up in U.S. water supplies.

"Most but not all of the water bodies tested in the state thus far have shown some levels of PFAS," said John Mura, a spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environmental Cabinet.

Also, the federal government is dedicating a billion dollars in funding through the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to deal with PFAS in drinking water, and hopefully Somerset be able to take advantage of these funds to help address PFAS in the local waterways.

But forever chemicals are not just in the Lake Cumberland waterways. It is in water systems all across the United States. No concrete proof or evidence was presented by Price that leachate has drastically increased or affected PFAS in the local waterways.

Price also claimed that the Pitman Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant was '30-years old, antiquated, broken and was not handling the waste it was already taking in'. However, the local treatment plant was built in 2012 and according to Keck the water is being properly tested everyday in accordance to state regulations.

Keck admitted that the Pitman Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant had received violations over the years, with most of them corrected. Keck explained that the city is working on funding, in the tune of $5 million, to install a needed screw press for sludge dewatering.

Whether Alan Keck or Eddie Girdler is the mayor after the Nov. 8 elections, I think there needs to be a more constructive way of looking into the effects of leachate, if any, into our local waterways.

As a citizen of Somerset, myself, I would like to see a public forum about the subject with expert advise presented by environmental experts, medical experts, members of the Somerset City Wastewater and Water Plants, and the Kentucky Division of Water.

Maybe it is just me, but I am a little hesitant to take water analysis advice from a McCreary County podcaster. I want to hear from the experts.

I have had no training in processing wastewater or leachate. I have no formal education in testing drinking water for high levels of unsafe chemicals. I have received no medical training on the health risks involved with certain chemicals introduce into a person's body.

But I will feel a little more safer about my water coming from testimonies from people who have the above mentioned professional training.

I am not taking sides on this debate. I am just saying we need to approach this matter analytically ... not politically.

Contact Steve Cornelius at scornelius@somerset-kentucky.com.