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Flathead Co. landfill contamination levels increase

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KALISPELL, Mont. - Recent rains have caused some problems at the Flathead County landfill. The increase in precipitation over the years has pushed up the groundwater level and it's reaching contaminates buried more than 30 years ago.

"This is just a result of the good old days not being the good old days," said Flathead County Public Works Director David Prunty.

Prunty says the problem has been around and monitored since the 1990s. In the '90s, contamination was found on the east side of the landfill.

The contamination is coming from a chemical called tetrachloroethylene. It comes from items people were throwing away decades ago.

"Repair service shops for cleaning parts, it's in dry cleaning fluids, and again back in the day before we were as knowledgeable as we are today, those things didn't go into the landfill. Back then, they got tossed in the landfill," Prunty said.

With recent rains more moisture has seeped into the ground. It has caused water levels to rise, and they're coming into contact with buried trash which is releasing the chemical.

"The standard for this chemical is five parts per billion, so we're about three times higher than the drinking water standard is, if somebody was tapping into the aquifer for their drinking water," said Prunty.

Prunty says nobody is currently using the underground aquifer -- that's why it is not threatening anybody.

The county has been extracting gas and burning it, and rerouting surface water around the landfill, as a means to control the contaminates. The county also monitors groundwater wells, and sends reports to the state about twice a year.

"We check our immediate neighbors in this area because we know the water's traveling that way and we want to make sure everybody's water is safe," Prunty said.

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Prunty hopes for drier weather in the future, so the water levels can start to diminish.

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