Wednesday, September 2, 2020

It's Water-Wise Wednesdays with Frannie the Fish! {TAPS Manual Part 5: Improperly Operated Landfills}

Frannie's friends at the Groundwater Foundation recently published the second edition of the Training About Protecting the Source (TAPS) Manual. The manual guides users through hands-on activities that explore potential threats to groundwater and challenges them to think about what can be done to protect this key drinking water source.

This manual can be used inside the classroom and is aligned to the national Next Generation Science Standards, but Frannie loves just learning about groundwater, no matter where she is. For the next few weeks, you can join her as she works through the different activities. 

Frannie will be using the Groundwater Foundation's Awesome Aquifer Kit, but if you don't have one, you can follow along with materials that might be found around your home. This is the second part of Frannie's exploration of the TAPS Manual. You can follow the link to see what she learned about sinkholesleaky underground storage tanksimproperly abandoned wells and the over-application of fertilizer.

Today's activity is....Improperly Operated Landfills.

A municipal solid waste landfill (MSWLF) is an area of land that typically receives household waste and sometimes can receive other types of nonhazardous waste, such as commercial solid waste, nonhazardous sludge, and industrial nonhazardous solid waste. According to the EPA, there are approximately 2,000 MSWLFs in the U.S. that are managed by the states in which they are located. When rain, snow, or runoff water soaks into and through a landfill, it can dissolve some of the landfill’s contents and, in an improperly constructed or operated landfill, carry it on down to the groundwater. This mixture of recharge and particles from the landfill’s contents is called leachate. As the amount of waste increases, the potential for leachate to enter the groundwater increases.

For this activity, you will need:
  • Awesome Aquifer Kit
    • Plastic box
    • Gravel
    • Plastic tube
    • Hand pump or syringe
    • Nylon
    • Rubber band
  • 2 inch square piece of dyed paper towel (prepped in advance)
    • Dip a paper towel in/or spray with slightly diluted food coloring (2 drops of dye per ounce of water)
    • Allow to dry completely.
  • 16 oz cup of water

Activity Steps 
1. Read through all the instructions first before you begin to build the model. Make sure you have all the needed materials and supplies.
2. Fill the plastic box with gravel until it is about ¼ full.
3. Add water so that half of the rocks are covered. (This will represent an aquifer.)
4. Create a well by covering the end of the plastic tube with nylon, securing it with a rubber band.

 5. Insert the well, with the well screen on the bottom, near one corner of the plastic box. Push the well down so that it reaches the bottom of the model.
6. Take the colored piece of paper towel, scrunch it up, and bury it on the opposite side of the model from the well location and near the outside of the box. (This is your landfill.)  
7. Pour or spray water on the surface of the gravel to simulate rain. Observe what happens to the landfill and groundwater after the rain.

8.  Pump the well by inserting the tip of the syringe into the well (plastic tube) or attaching and pumping the hand pump.

Once it got wet, the stained paper towel began to leach some red into the surrounding groundwater. Frannie also noticed that the water she pumped out of the other end of the model was colored a light pink. Leachate from improperly managed landfills can flow in underground plumes, eventually contaminating nearby wells, but this can be prevented. Landfills that are properly operated have safety measures in place to mitigate the chances that dangerous chemicals will enter into the ground. Proper recycling of hazardous waste, such as pharmaceuticals, paint, oil, cleaners, electronics, batteries, and more can keep contaminants from getting into the system in the first place.

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