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Officials: Explosion at Landfill a ‘Unique Occurrence,’ School Worries Unfounded

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, Va. — When a barrel containing chemicals exploded at the landfill, fears arose that a new high school being built next door may be too close for comfort.

That barrel exploded July 30 after someone dropped it off at a chemical depot at the Prince William County Sanitary Landfill at 14811 Dumfries Road at Independent Hill. The incident prompted a response from police, fire and rescue crews, and calls from the FBI. After being shut down, the landfill reopened for regular business about two hours after the explosion.

Deborah Campbell, Communications Specialists for the Prince William County Solid Waste Division, explained that the chemical reaction was “a unique occurrence,” that happens perhaps once in a generation.

“Tom Smith, our Solid Waste Division Chief, has been her almost 30 years, and this is the first time this sort of incident has taken place. In fact, other than weather-related closings, he could not recall the landfill every being closed during normal operating hours,” Campbell said.

The county’s 12 high school will sit next to the landfill on Dumfries Road. The school, already plagued by debate over building the swimming pool that will be inside the school and human remains found at the school site, is said to be “urgently needed” and will open in 2016.

Campbell says having a school built somewhat near the landfill is not a negative, and it will afford opportunities to share “the science, engineering and environmental opportunities” with the high school students.

Jason Grant, Communications Director for Prince William County Government, said the landfill plan required at least 1,000 feet between a school property and any active land filling, and said the requirement the county imposed upon itself is much more stringent than the state’s requirement.

“State regulations require that a school be at least 200 feet from a landfill. The school property for the 12th high school is located more than a half mile from the landfill,” he said, so “No, the site does not pose any danger.”

He also said it was an exaggeration to call the July 30 incident at the landfill an “explosion.”

“The issue you are referencing from July did not pose any health or safety issues. There was a drum with pool chemicals that water got into, which created a reaction,” Grant said.

School division representatives echoed similar sentiments and said the school property does not abut the landfill, and noted George HellwigCommunity Park – home to a public library and the county’s parks and recreation department offices — is also nearby the landfill.

Prince William County Public Schools spokeswoman Irene Cromer said in the event of an emergency the 12th high school would follow the same plan all other schools would follow.

Neighboring Stafford County also operates its own landfill for its residents, and residents who live in the City of Fredericksburg. So far, rules on what can be built nearby are few.

“We don’t have any restrictions for development based on its proximity to the landfill,” she said.

However, if they were to build a school near their landfill, there would be “ample opportunity” for citizen input.

Campbell hopes to educate Prince William County residents about the landfill and its role in the community. A “Prince William Recycles” event will be held Saturday, Oct. 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the landfill.

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