‘Garbage juice,’ other landfill toxins are polluting Graham creek, suit says

A Graham-area landfill has been illegally polluting a nearby tributary of the Nisqually River for years, according to an environmental advocacy group’s lawsuit.

The Puget Soundkeeper Alliance alleges polluted stormwater from the LRI Landfill discharges into the waterway, known both as Muck Creek and South Creek, as well as its unnamed tributary and wetlands adjacent to the facility.

“This is a small waterway that supports native runs of chum, coho and steelhead,” as well as cutthroat trout, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance staff attorney Katelyn Kinn told The News Tribune. “This is a waterway that is really well worth protecting, and our community needs it to be healthy.”

In recent years the pollution from the business at 30919 Meridian E. has exceeded what’s allowed by its permits and the federal Clean Water Act, according to the lawsuit filed Sept. 11 in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.

The suit names Pierce County Recycling, Composting and Disposal, which does business as LRI, and its owner, Waste Connections of Washington.

A News Tribune message left with LRI’s office was not returned, and Waste Connections could not be reached for comment.

The LRI website says the landfill has liners and a leak detection system, among other features to “meet and exceed all regulatory requirements.”

As for the waterway: “The footprint was configured to avoid impacts to South Creek and its eastern tributary,” the company’s website says.

According to the lawsuit:

A combination of test results reported by the facility for its permits and tests done by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department showed the landfill’s discharge had higher than acceptable levels of copper, zinc, PCBs, lead, arsenic and other chemicals last year.

Some of the pollution Puget Soundkeeper Alliance alleges, such as landfill leachate, isn’t allowed to be discharged at all.

“It’s basically like garbage juice,” Kinn said. “It’s the fluid that builds up at the landfill over time. It’s as nasty as you would picture it.”

The LRI website describes in detail a process for collecting that liquid, treating it and pumping it into the county sewer system.

But the lawsuit alleges some is still finding its way into the creek.

Kinn said while stormwater appears to be the primary way the pollution is getting from the landfill to the creek, there might be other paths, but that it’s not yet clear.

It’s also not clear how many days the landfill has been in violation, she said, which would be a factor in determining the potential penalty.

“It’s over a period of years,” Kinn said. “Many, many days, but I really can’t say how many.”

The suit asks the court to order the landfill to pay up to $52,414 for each day it’s been in violation, per the Clean Water Act.

The lawsuit also contends the landfill has been in violation “... each and every day during the last five years on which there was 0.1 inch or more of precipitation” and that it continues to be so.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell