In Montgomery County, residents of some areas have learned to talk about pollution in terms of "mineral trace emissions" and to call neighborhood incinerators "smerfs" (from small energy recover facilities), because solid waste disposal is an issue that hits them where they live.
Solid waste has become so much of an issue, in fact, that Laytonsville activist Harold O'Flaherty hopes to build a campaign for County Council on it.
Montgomery County has five years to build a new facility to dispose of trash before its only operating landfill is used to capacity. The council must narrow the range of options to two or three by June, and make a final choice in a year.
In the meantime, debate over solid waste is heating up, in a demonstration of what one county official calls the "not-in-my-back-yard" syndrome.
"Pretty soon the science will end, and the politics will take over," O'Flaherty maintains.
Three years ago the county opened the Laytonsville landfill to handle all the county's refuse, which is first collected at the Shady Grove transfer station. The landfill is expected to be full in about five years. "Mass-burn" incinerators that can handle all kinds of trash and garbage were considered state-of-the-art disposal equipment in the past, and the county fully expected to construct an incinerator alongside the transfer station. Now council members are not sure, and other methods -- such as one that would produce electricity with coal and garbage -- are being considered.
Having moved with all due bureaucratic care on the subject (sending representatives of its citizens Solid Waste Advisory Commitee and representatives of the League of Women Voters to Europe to gaze at vast Wagnerian incinerators), the council is nearing the time when it must narrow its sights.
0pponents of the four leading options are, naturally enough, residents of each area where a facility is proposed. Homeowners north of the village of Potomac are battling a proposal to use the Travilah quarry as a landfill.
Laytonsville activist O'Flaherty calls the option of expanding the landfill in his neighborhood a case of the council's playing "Waltz me around again, Willie."
In the northwest corner of the county, near the Dickerson plant of the Potomac Electric Power Co. -- where refuse-derived fuel will be test-burned with coal to produce steam -- residents are concerned about pollution.
But that book was written years ago by the Shady Grove activists, who were instrumental in forcing the county to think of options other than the mass-burn incinerator.
A month before full public hearings are scheduled, the sloganeering is in full swing, especially by those concerned about using the Travilah quarry as a landfill. Residents of the upper Potomac area contend that would result in a "Love Canal" that would contaminate the area's groundwater.
The 250-foot-deep quarry is one of two long-term proposals county staff members favor. Officials of the county's environmental protection department estimate that it could be used for a half-century.
The quarry is only four miles by truck from the refuse transfer station at Shady Grove, while the current landfill at Laytonsville is seven miles from the station.
There are two potential roadblocks between Shady Grove and Travilah, however: the fact that the state has yet to license a hard-rock quarry for landfilling, and the widely perceived political clout of the affluent population of Potomac.
"I don't think I'll live long enough to see a garbage dump in County Council member Esther Gelman's back yard," one citizen put it.
The other option that seems to be gaining ground is the Dickerson experiment, and the two- to six-month test burn is scheduled to begin in May.
Testifying against the Shady Grove incinerator plan last week, Margaret Erickson, chair of Concerned Citizens and Scientists for a Healthful Environment -- an umbrella organization of a half-dozen civic associations representing that area -- repeated her request for "an objective" evaluation of the health hazards such a facility would present.
Residents of the Shady Grove area also complain they are the only interest group not represented on the Solid Waste Advisory Council, a group organized by the County Council to allow county residents some involvement in the selection process.
In the meantime, Environmental Protection Department chief John Menke seems to be the only person willing to expose his own back yard. The Pepco plant at Dickerson, where the test burn is being prepared, is only a couple of miles -- and upwind -- of Menke's home in Barnesville.