Typically we think of roadsides, private property and vacant lots when we hear the phrase “illegal open dump.” Truth is illegal open dumps can show up anywhere, including caves and sink holes. This past May, the massive cleanup of the “Gulf Pit Dump” began in one of Hart County’s caves.
The Gulf Pit Dump cleanup took 12 weeks to complete, but preparation had been in the works for three years. The cleanup was made possible by a $219,000 grant from the Kentucky Division of Waste Management’s Illegal Open Dump Grant program. This was the largest illegal open dump cleanup in 2013 and the first cave cleanup where illegal open dump funds were used.
A group of cavers geared up each day and made the 10-minute descent to the mound of material waiting for them below. The cavers hand-picked the dump, loaded the materials into large canvas bags and hoisted the recovered materials out of the cave. A crew on the surface then sorted the material. Over 26,000 pounds of metal was recovered, along with 360 tires, 58,000 pounds of household garbage, 15 tons of construction wood scrap, assorted farm chemicals and a large amount of plastic. Cavers say they estimate the dumpsite had been used for 50 years or more, with the top layer dating to the late 1980s.
Kentucky is home to one of the most famous and vast karst systems in the world. Dumping material into caves and sinkholes directly affects groundwater quality. Water filters through the cave and dumpsite materials into a channel linked directly into water systems. This particular cave is connected to a channel that feeds into Green River.
“Kentucky has made great strides in open dump cleanups. We are more than pleased with the effort and outcome of the Gulf Pit dump,” said Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Len Peters.
The Division of Waste Management administers the Kentucky Pride Fund to clean up county dump sites. Funding for the program comes from a $1.75 environmental remediation fee for each ton of garbage disposed of at Kentucky municipal solid waste disposal facilities. This “tipping fee,” authorized by the 2002 General Assembly under House Bill 174, is collected quarterly and placed in the Kentucky Pride Fund.
For more information regarding illegal open dumping, visit http://waste.ky.gov/RLA/Pages/dumps.aspx.
Images courtesy of Missy Shields, Matt McClintock and Elaine Digges.