UPDATE: CWS has set up an off-site trash collection station over the weekend.
Haines residents with full trash cans will have to wait until next week to get rid of their garbage. The town’s only trash collection business is temporarily closed because of a potential contamination incident.
On Wednesday, employees at Haines’ privately-run landfill were processing household trash when something unexpected happened.
“When it happened, it happened so fast,” said Community Waste Solutions Manager Sally Garton.
She says during processing, a heavy machine ran over what appeared to be a potentially hazardous chemical that someone disposed of in a garbage bag. The unknown substance was released into the air.
Two employees in the immediate vicinity were exposed to the chemical and sent to the Haines clinic for treatment. Garton says they seem to be OK, but four other employees who had minimal exposure to the substance started showing symptoms today.
“Some of the employees were showing delayed reactions today,” Garton said. “They were presenting with flu-like symptoms.”
Just in case the symptoms are related to the exposure, CWS and the Haines Borough decided to delay reopening the area for trash collection.
“We’re going to close down ‘til Monday for public and personnel safety,” Garton said. “And we’ve contacted some outside agencies for cleanup advice.”
The original plan was for CWS to clean up the potential contamination and open Friday.
“We’re just wanting to proceed with a lot of caution,” Interim Borough Manager Brad Ryan said. “And so we’re just hoping to slow down a little bit, reach out to some resources and make sure we’re not going to increase any of the dangers that are associated with that or put anybody in harm’s way.”
Ryan says they’ve reached out to the Juneau Fire Department and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. On Wednesday, the Haines Fire Department responded to the incident but could not identify the chemical in question.
“I think it’s just the concern of putting people back in there and still not knowing what it is,” Ryan said. “So we’re just trying to take a step back and just re-evaluate before we get into that situation. So I think they probably could go out and bury it and open back up. But just to be on the cautionary side, we want to reached out to a few experts to make sure we’re making the right decisions.”
Garton says after spending this weekend consulting with experts and focusing on cleanup, CWS hopes to reopen Monday. If they can’t open the main processing building, Garton says they’ll set up an off-site collection area.
“Please be aware that aerosol cans, cleaning agents from in the home are still considered hazardous waste and are not to be disposed of in regular trash,” Garton said. “Incidents like this happen when we can’t inspect every single bag that comes in. And the borough does have household hazardous waste disposal to handle these chemicals.”
This unexpected closure spotlights Haines’ limited garbage removal options. There is no back-up option when CWS is closed. There is another recycling alternative, the non-profit Haines Friends of Recycling.
Most residents throw away their non-recyclable waste by self-hauling to CWS. The company became the only trash disposal business in Haines after the closure of Acme Transfer last year.
Haines currently has a working group to talk about waste-related issues. The group is exploring whether there is a better way for the community to deal with its solid waste.