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Landfill Prepared To Accept 3.5 million Dead Chickens

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Mills County Could Be Destination For Bagged Bird Remains

By Joe Foreman, Editor

The CEO of Iowa Waste Systems, owner and operator of the Loess Hills Sanitary Landfill, said Monday the facility near Malvern has a road built and equipment in place to begin burying as many as 3.5 million dead chickens that have died or been killed as a result of the H5N2 Avian Bird Flu.

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“We were ready two weeks ago,” Robert Glebs said. “We’re in negotiations - working with the USDA.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Iowa Department of Natural Resources  (DNR) have been in talks with four Iowa landfills over the past several days as state and federal officials seek ways to dispose of more than 25 million dead chickens, turkeys and ducks from operations primarily in northwest and central Iowa. The Loess Hills Sanitary Landfill is the only one of the four that’s privately owned.

“We were the only one (landfill) that stepped up and said we’d help,” Glebs said. “We had a lot of questions.”
Some of the dead birds have already been buried or burned in incinerators, but millions are decomposing in biohazard bags while disposal plans are finalized.

“People want to find a solution and there needs to be a solution quickly,” Glebs said. “About 27 million dead birds are rotting away and the flies in those areas are multiplying.”

Glebs said the Loess Hills Sanitary Landfill has no intention of taking all the dead birds. Initially, he said, the facility is prepared to take 3.5 million from Sunrise Farms near Harris, about 200 miles away in northwest Iowa.

“We’ll take 10 loads (200 tons) first,” Glebs said. “We’ll see how it goes and tell them if we want to accept more.”
One stipulation Glebs said his firm has made with the USDA is that the bags trucked to Mills County must include some type of solid material, such as saw dust or livestock bedding to prevent leakage of fluids.

Glebs said any truck with dead birds coming to Mills County would be properly sealed and  sanitized before entering and leaving the landfill and employees at the site would never be exposed to the bird remains. The bags would fall from the truck into a designated hole at the landfill and immediately be covered with solid layers of dirt, he said.

“We’ll follow procedures agreed upon by the USDA, DNR and the landfill,” Glebs said.
Glebs said the Loess Hills Sanitary Landfill accepts environmentally-sensitive materials on a regular basis.

“We bury waste every day,” he said. “Some of it is smelly and sludgy and takes special precautions.”
Glebs said Iowa Waste owners wouldn’t accept the bird remains  if they believed there was a risk to employees or the environment.

State Rep. David Sieck of Glenwood said he’s been bombarded with calls and electronic communications in recent days by constituents who are concerned about the possible consequences of transporting and disposing of the dead chickens in Mills County.

“I’m not for this,” Sieck said. “I’d much rather have them burned in incinerators, but there aren’t enough incinerators to dispose of that many birds.”

Sieck said he’s had communi-cation with members of the Mills County Board of Supervisors, Department of Agriculture, U.S. Rep. David Young and U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst about the matter.

“The priority right now is just trying to get everything buttoned up as soon as possible,” Sieck said. “The odor and the flies are only getting worse in the areas where many of those birds are sitting at right now.”

Gov. Terry Branstad has declared a state of emergency in response to the Bird Flu outbreak and on a federal level both the USDA and Department of Homeland Security are involved, which ties the hands of local jurisdictions.

“Homeland Security is involved and they’re not telling anybody anything,” Sieck said.

Mills County Attorney Tricia McSorley said county officials are very concerned about the situation and are monitoring developments on a regular basis. She said the county can’t legally prevent the landfill from accepting the birds because Iowa Waste would be signing a private contract to do business with the USDA.

McSorley said she has requested Mills County officials be notified if and when the trucks carrying the dead carcasses are dispatched to the landfill.

Mills County Emergency Management Director Larry Hurst said he’s been involved in conference calls concerning possible plans of action to dispose of the dead birds, but doesn’t believe a solution has been reached.

Sieck said the situation is “a mess” and could worsen. Because migratory birds are suspected of being responsible for bringing the disease to Iowa, there is a legitimate concern about another outbreak occurring in the fall when birds are migrating back to a warmer climate, he said.