Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate
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G & H Landfill, Utica, Michigan

David T. Hanson’s aerial photograph of the G & H Landfill, which appears in his book Waste Land, was taken in Utica, Michigan, in 1986. The entire landfill is 60 acres in size. In operation from the late 1950s to 1966, the G & H Landfill has had, according to the Environmental Protection Agency assessment quoted in Hanson’s artwork, “millions of gallons of industrial wastes, including oils, solvents, and process sludges” disposed into it. In 1967, a Consent Order was legislated following a lawsuit “to stop disposal of all liquid wastes, but not to clean up wastes already at the site.”

The Michigan Department of Public Health reports that minor chemical contacts from the G & H Landfill have happened in small amounts and have not lasted long. There has been no confirmed evidence of serious problems caused by this site. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that residential areas, which are located to the north and east of the landfill, are not in any direct danger, although PCBs were found in oil disposed in the landfill. According to public health assessments, some of the carp found in the Clinton River have high PCB levels, so people are advised to limit their consumption. Since some chemicals were found in people’s wells, county and state health agencies have provided nearby residents with non-contaminated water. As an additional precaution, the G & H Landfill has been enclosed and marked with signs.

Over time, chemical contents have seeped into the ground and have created a situation that is complicated to fix. The EPA has been involved in the clean-up process and has enacted a three-stage Remedial Action Plan, which involves removing small amounts of “PCB-laden oil” and fencing the site. This plan also involves constructing a cover for the landfill, “an impermeable underground slurry wall, and a groundwater extraction and treatment system to physically and hydraulically contain the contaminants onsite” (“NPL Fact Sheets”). The EPA report also states that any water taken from this site be treated. Since 1996, fourteen companies worked together to clean and create new wetlands at the site. The clean-up was completed in September 1999.

Selected Bibliography

Filpus, John W., John L. Hesse, and James Bedford. “Public Health Assessment Addendum: G & H Landfill, Shelby Township, Macomb County, Michigan.” Michigan Department of Public Health, 29 April 1992. Weblink.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “NPL Fact Sheets for Michigan: G & H Landfill.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 12 July 2005. Weblink.

G & H Landfill, Utica, Michigan Pictures in the Gallery