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Landfills: Chronic Employee Health Affects

Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.
Chief Tecumseh

Landfills are pretty basic creatures. But just like any organism they have a system of things that keeps them running. The most important of which is its people.

These people are amazing. They do things that I cannot. Like show up to a landfill for 30 years straight to operate a machine. It is still common in this industry to have operators as employees for upwards of 20+ years. I don’t know what it is about this industry that keeps people in it for so long, but those that make it a year or two, don’t leave. And I’m not so sure that is a good thing.

A few months back I went to landfill training school. I suspected I knew what I did not know. I was amazed. What I didn’t fully understand was regulations exist to stop things from happening again. Landfill mistakes are huge and are definitely mistakes worth not repeating. What I also didn’t fully grasp was what landfill mistake look like. Drilling methane relief vents can puncture leachate liners, exposing groundwater to leachate. Hot dry conditions cause plastic to blow around. These conditions also cause most chronic issue. Dust. I hope this is enlightening as to what people have to face as employees in landfills.

Look at this list of known contaminants that are present in landfills. There are so many words I cannot pronounce, but what my chemical engineer roommate said about this list was most revealing. He looked at the list of huge names and scoffed ‘Meh, hydrocarbons are no biggie’. He continued, ‘the big issue comes from these guys: lead, cobalt, mercury, chromium, molybdenum, zinc.’ All are heavy metals. Incinerate them; they are still heavy metals. There is no ‘away’ for these elements. The issue for employees comes from dust.

Here is a video of what a day in the landfill is like. It looks like dust. It is extremely dusty. Operators spend their entire day in the exposure zone of these chemicals. The only protection workers have is the cabin air filter. This is only useful when the A/C or heater is running. So if an operator needs to exit a vehicle, they are exposed to potentially anything on that list. Mercury, lead, zinc dust; but wait it gets better.

Typically landfills do not come with super plush employee facilities. Usually they have at a scale house, typically a mobile home. The office is basically the same, a mobile trailer with basic amenities: computers, desks, bathroom, and a clock to punch in and out with, nothing else. In other words, it is likely that they are heading home with these uniforms on their backs, muddy boots on their feet, in their cars, in their homes till they hit the shower.

Let me put it like this:

Likelihood of exposure = likely;
Longevity of Employees = long employee life;
Exposure to substances known to be adverse to health= Likely to breathe over career;
Poor facilities to encourage safety and personal hygiene = likely to bring these substances back home;

Add these all together and you have the likelihood that someone is going to develop a chronic condition with the possibility to expose family members as well.

I want to create the best damn place to work. Place that allows employees to work in conditions that encourages them to take preventative measures to minimize their exposure to these elements.

This company is for my people. The US as a whole, the employees because they deserve it. And consumers, businesses because they deserve to know that someone is working on a complicated problem.

In order to build that system, I must possess a waste stream to play with. Therefore, I plan to do this one dumpster at a time.

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