Landfill Cover Soil, Soil Solution, and Vegetation Responses to Municipal Landfill Leachate Applications


Municipal solid waste landfill leachate must be removed and treated to maintain landfill cover integrity and to prevent contamination of surface and ground waters. From 2003 to 2007, we studied an onsite disposal system in Ottawa County, Michigan, where leachate was spray irrigated on the vegetated landfill cover. We established six 20-m-diameter circular experimental plots on the landfill; three were spray irrigated as part of the operational system, and three remained as untreated control plots. We quantified the effects of leachate application on soil properties, soil solution chemistry, vegetative growth, and estimated solute leaching. The leachate had high mean levels of electrical conductivity (0.6–0.7 S m–1), Cl (760–900 mg L–1), and NH4–N (290–390 mg L–1) but was low in metals and volatile organic compounds. High rates of leachate application in 2003 (32 cm) increased soil electrical conductivity and NO3–N leaching, so a sequential rotation of spray areas was implemented to limit total leachate application to <9.6 cm yr–1 per spray area. Concentrations of NO3–N and leaching losses remained higher on irrigated plots in subsequent years but were substantially reduced by spray area rotation. Leachate irrigation increased plant biomass but did not significantly affect soil metal concentrations, and plant metal concentrations remained within normal ranges. Rotating spray areas and timing irrigation to conform to seasonal capacities for evapotranspiration reduced the localized impacts of leachate application observed in 2003. Careful monitoring of undiluted leachate applications is required to avoid adverse impacts to vegetation or soils and elevated solute leaching losses.


landfill, leachate, soil, vegetation, hazardous waste, waste disposal sites, environmental quality


Environmental Health | Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecology