Since there is not a perfect method of disposing waste, landfills are still a necessity in modern-day society. Many design innovations have been incorporated into landfill systems to minimise ecosystem contamination, such as bottom liners, waste collection systems and covers, as well as geological research to find suitable places for a landfill. Even with all these preventive measures in place, there are still environmental risks to having landfills.
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A major concern with landfills is water contamination. Landfills are built with a bottom liner, a layer of material, usually clay or plastic, that prevents rainwater and waste from draining into soil. The problem is that when it rains, this wastewater collects at the bottom of the liner. This contaminated water is called "leachate" and can spill from the landfill and end up in surrounding water sources. Measures have been taken to control flow of leachate in landfills. For example, drainage systems take the wastewater to water-treatment plants, but these sometimes can fail.
Gas emissions into the atmosphere are a major concern regarding landfills. Gas from decomposing material can cause global warming problems and major health concerns for local wildlife and communities. Landfills produces a gas that is about 60 per cent methane and the rest mostly carbon dioxide, both of which are harmful to the environment and contributors to global warming. Therefore, landfill operators use a gas collection system to control and store this gas. Then the gas is either burnt so that only carbon dioxide is released or filtered so that the toxic components are removed.
Landfills will seep waste material into the surrounding soil when it rains if there are cracks in the foundation. To help control seeping waste, contractors will look for areas that have natural waste controlling properties. They will look for tight rock areas that will not permit waste to easily escape, but they will also look for areas that have a relatively simple geological structure so that they can know where waste will accumulate. Soil contamination can cause damage to local plant and animal life.
The introduction of landfills into the environment can bring unwanted pests as well. Landfills will attract more disease carrying rodents, such as mice, rats or foxes, and also more scavenging birds such as crows and seagulls. The increase in these vermin can cause risk for the local community and other wildlife populations. Also, landfills can be potentially harmful for local wildlife by contaminating food sources and habitat.
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