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Uncontrolled landfill investigation: a case study in Athens

Mavropoulos Antonis1,Kaliampakos Dimitris2

: National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), Researcher, Department of Chemical
Engineering, 9 Heroon Polytehniou str., Zografou 15 780, Greece
: National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), Lecturer, Department of Mining Engineering
& Metallurgy, 9 Heroon Polytehniou str., Zografou 15 780, Greece

Uncontrolled landfills comprise one of the most important topics as regards to Solid Waste
Management (SWM) in Greece. The enviromental impacts of these landfills are closely related to
some particular characteristics, namely the composition and quantity of the disposed solid wastes and the
conditions that control the physicochemical processes inside the waste volume, which in fact determine the
rehabilitation plan . The objective of this paper is to present a method to gain all these crucial data. The
definition of the necessary information in order to have a sufficient knowledge about the landfill processes
and the choice of the appropriate overall measurements (biogas, geophysical methods) are the key factors to
transced the problem of unconformity and the absence of data, without wasting time and money.

Dumping on land has been one of the most wide spread methods for the final
disposal of solid wastes, since the turn of the century untill, unfortunately, now. As it
was a simple task to haul solid wastes to the edge of the town and dump them
there, open dumps became a common method to dispose solid wastes for a long
period of time. From 4639 solid waste disposal sites in Greece, 3099 (66,5 %)
sites are officialy recognized as uncontrolled landfills, according to the Minister
of Environment Physical Planning and Public Works (Frantzis et al, 1993).
Thus, the restoration of thousands of uncontrolled landfills in Greece is an urgent,
complicated and difficult problem to solve. The enviromental impacts of
uncontrolled landfills are closely related to specific features, for each landfill, which
finally assign the restoration plan, such as:
• The composition and quantity of the disposed solid wastes.
• The conditions controlling the mechanical, biological, physical and chemical
changes inside the waste volume.
• The main physicochemical processes affecting the waste volume.
Nevertheless, usually there is lack of information or sometimes complete unawareness, as
regards to the real state within an uncontrolled landfill. It must be also noted that, uncontrolled
landfills are very uneven systems, very much depended on location, composition of
wastes and the existing climatologic conditions. So it is very difficult to overview the
environmental impacts of the different sites according to a global rule (Little et al, 1995).
Taking into account the different hydrogeologic and geologic conditions, the
topography etc., it is evident that every uncontrolled landfill is a unique case.
This paper is based on the work carried out in the framework of the succesfull research
program «Environmental Impact Assesment and Restoration of the Kareas
landfill» (1996). This project was carried out by the NTUA (Mining Technology
Laboratory). Kareas landfill overlies an abandoned quarry and contains about
13.500.000 tons of solid wastes disposed in the years between 1970 and 1992,
at a 40 hectares area, situated only a few kilometers from the center of Athens. It
is, undeniably, the greatest uncontroled landfill in Greece.

1. Defining the required information and the data resources

The dump consists of a mixture of inert wastes with Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)
with unknown proportion and composition. Thus the following questions had to be answered.
• Which is the amount of the waste?
• Which is its composition? Which is the content in MSW?
• What particular conditions mainly exist inside the waste heap? I.e.:
• Are the waste compacted and which is the compaction ratio?
• Do exist aerobic or anaerobic conditions?
• What are the values of the existing temperature and pressure?
• What are the water conditions inside the waste heap?
• What are the main physicochemical, biological and mechanical processes
controlling the landfill?
Table 1 shows the corelation, indicated by the gray cells between the required
information and the data resources employed. The term ‘‘Case History’’describes all
the information related to the landfill, such as the climatologic, hydrogeologic,
geologic conditions, soil condition, topography and type of disposal.

Table 1: Corellation between required information and data resources
INFORMATION Biog Temperatur Drills Geophysic Laboratory Case
as e al Measureme History
Research nts
Waste amount
Waste composition
Waste volume
Air presence
Temperature and
Water infiltration
Processes that controll the landfill

From other studies about Kareas landfill it was given that:

• No mechanical compaction of the waste had taken place. The waste were just
unloaded from the top of the quarry.
• The surrounding limestones are intensely fractured and water permeated.
Inside the waste volume, there is a lot of CaCO3, derived by the quarrys

2. Measurements
2.1 Geophysical Research
Seismic Tomography and Diffraction Seismics were selected as the most
appropriate methods for the geophysical investigation of the site. The object was to
detect separate layers as well as to investigate the physical properties of the waste.
The Diffraction Seismic method, used two cross sections, about 144 m length
each. The first cross section had 144 geophones in 3 groups while the second cross
section had 96 geophones in 2 groups. The distance between the geophones
was 2 m and there were 6 detonation points at each section. The Seismic
Tomography method utilised two 10 m x 10 m grids, in two different areas of the
quarry. 59 and 120 geophones were located at the corresponding areas,
The main conclusions drawn from the geophysical investigation were:

• The seismic wave velocity gradient indicated a slight bedding of the
disposed material generated by the weight of the overburden.
• No negative seismic wave velocity gradient was observed, thus no
considerable concentration of pure MSW was detected. The mixture of inerts
and MSW shows a remarkable homogeneity.
2.2 Drilling Research
Twelve (12) sampling boreholes were performed (Figure 1). Field measurements
and waste sampling for laboratory analysis were carried out around and inside the
boreholes. The particular selection of the borehole location was made in order to cover as
much as possible of the quarry area. Some boreholes detected large voids inside the
waste volume.

5 2
6 1
9 4


Figure 1: Kareas landfill and the boreholes pattern

: Borehole

2.3 Biogas Measurements

A GA - 94 Infrared Gas Analyser (Geotechnical Instruments) was used to
measure biogas emmisions at the upper part of the boreholes. The operation limits of
this instrument are 0 - 100% v/v about CH4, 0 - 50% v/v about CO2 and 0 - 21%

v/v about O2. All the measurements were carried out at 9o-11 o
C and 78,8%
relative humidity of the air (Table 2).

Table 2: Biogas measurements

Borehole CH4 (% v/v) CO2 (% v/v) O2 (% v/v) CO (ppm) Temperature (oC)
1 0.0 11.4 7.8 0.0 35
2 0.0 12.9 6.6 0.0 31.1
3 0.0 12.4 7.8 0.0 28
4 0.0 10.6 8.9 0.0 23.9
5 0.0 0.7 19.1 0.0 37.8
7 0.0 6.7 13.4 0.0 23.7
8 0.0 2.1 17.3 0.0 33
9 0.0 1.6 18.4 0.0 31
10 0.0 2.7 16.6 0.0 47
11 0.0 15.6 4.4 0.0 27.8
12 7.7 13.8 0.0 7.0 15.1

During the measurements, oxygen ranged between 20.3 - 20.5 % v/v in open
air. No H2S was detected. All the measurements were done in depth ranged
between 3.5 and 5 m.

2.4 Laboratory analysis

Fourty two samples, grouped at each borehole location where sampling had been taken
place, were analysed. At each sample pH, BOD5, COD, organic carbon and
humidity were measured (Table 3 and 4).
Table 3: Laboratory measurements of the waste samples
Borehole Depth pH Humidi Organi BO COD
(m) ty (%) c C (%) D5 (mg/l)
9 8.62 6.8 2.07 17.4 90.7
18 9.74 10.4 1.10 18.2 100.1
27 8.81 15.0 1.23 17.0 93.7
1 36 9.23 14.8 2.40 17.8 84.5
45 8.50 7.7 2.27 20.0 102.8
54 8.93 15.4 1.17 19.5 85.2
63 8.82 11.8 2.30 17.4 91.8
72 8.61 12.5 1.18 19.3 99.7
81 8.91 8.4 0.96 18.6 102.5

9 8.36 8.8 2.10 31.3 87.0

18 8.30 11.9 1.71 18.1 89.3
27 9.03 7.4 1.30 19.7 95.5
2 36 8.41 8.5 1.07 24.8 114.4
45 9.18 12.7 1.60 22.3 110.7
54 8.49 8.9 3.72 24.5 120.1

63 8.54 16.4 2.93 21.8 118.0
72 7.83 18.0 6.00 22.3 88.3

Table 4: Laboratory measurements of the waste samples

Borehole Depth pH Humidi Organi BO COD
(m) ty (%) c C (%) D5 (mg/l)
9 7.90 12.0 4.70 19.6 84.2
3 18 9.40 12.7 5.10 20.7 91.7
27 8.56 14.4 5.80 21.4 95.3
36 7.97 15.8 6.70 22.3 102.0

4 27 9.92 3.4 0.73 32.1 95.2

36 8.21 2.7 0.51 28.7 121.5

9 8.40 8.4 0.76 19.9 95.3

18 8.40 11.5 0.80 25.7 92.1
27 8.59 13.6 0.83 20.1 95.7
36 8.60 6.9 0.78 34.0 98.7
5 45 8.18 14.8 0.78 23.0 104.8
54 8.80 7.9 0.90 31.3 106.2
63 8.80 17.4 0.95 25.7 112.4
72 8.12 17.5 0.91 21.8 123.7

9 8.63 11.9 1.50 17.3 78.2

18 9.48 11.6 1.63 17.1 77.1
27 12.44 9.2 0.70 17.3 77.2
36 8.74 13.8 1.87 17.6 78.5
45 8.17 10.5 1.77 17.6 75.7
11 54 10.87 10.3 2.66 17.7 63.2
63 9.00 7.0 3.80 17.9 63.9
72 8.82 10.2 0.95 17.9 65.2
81 8.46 9.4 0.07 18.4 73.9
90 8.74 7.3 0.83 18.1 75.8
99 9.17 5.6 1.05 18.2 64.3

The laboratory measurements of organic carbon range between 0,07 and 6,7%
by weight (dry basis). BOD5 and COD are also sensibly low. It is remarkable
that there is only one borehole (n.3) where the organic carbon ranges between
4,7 and 6,7% by weight (dry basis) while at the rest the maximum values vary
between 3,7 and 3,8%.
Value dispersion is low, almost for every parameter. Keeping in mind the
possibility of organic carbon loss during the sampling and the relatively high
uniformity of the measurements , organic carbon should be ranged between 2 - 6%.
To make a safe side estimation, it is finally accepted that organic carbon is about 6%.

3. Discussion
From the above the following can be concluded:
3.1 Waste amount and composition
Table 5 shows main characteristics of Athens MSW composition (Lekkas et al, 1991).
Organic carbon is about 30 - 31% by weight (dry basis).
Table 5: MSW composition in Athens
C 31 %
H 0,00
04 %
S 0,1
Ash and inerts 33,8
Humidity 37,5

The difference in the organic carbon content between the average values of Athens MSW (31%)
and Kareas landfill solid waste (maximum 6%) can be explained by both, the low (MSW/inert
waste) ratio inside the quarry and the natural reduction of the organic C.
Granted that the whole organic carbon is contained at the MSW, the MSW ratio is
about 20% of the waste weight and organic carbon is about 810.000 tons.
3.2 Waste heap conditions
The geophysical research confirmed that there is only a slight bedding of the disposed
material. So the spatial waste distribution is characterized by the waste weight.
Heavy waste have tended to move to the bottom of the quarry while light waste
stayed to upper part of the heap. The presence of many large pockets of waste (practically
uncompacted) led to the formation of air passageways and finally to almost free air
circulation conditions. The waste volume contains large amounts of water, due
to the topography, the climate in the area and the high permeability of the geologic
surrounding. The CaCO3 and the water existence create an alcaline environment
inside the waste heap, also confirmed by the pH measurements (see Table 3,4).

Relatively high temperatures (Table 2) were measured at many locations inside the

3.3 Physicochemical, biological and mechanical processes

Gas emissions, due to the underground migration of the biogas, are more
representative of the global physicochemical processes and not of their local occurance
(Commission of the E.C., 1992, Straka F. et al, 1993). In a single borehole methane was
detected (Table 2) and no oxygen was measured. Also at the same location, the
measured temperature was sensibly low. It is also remarkable that in every site
where CO2 was detected, the sum of measured CO2 and O2 percentages was very
close to the open air O2 percentage . This indicates that the consumed O2 was
converted to CO2 and confirms the existence of free air circulation, inside a great
area of the waste heap.
As it is known the products of the anaerobic decomposition of MSW are initially
carbon dioxide and water and carbon dioxide and methane at the latest phase
of the process (Luning et al, 1993), when the initial oxygen of the compacted wastes
is depleted (Tchobanoglous et al, 1977). The products of aerobic decomposition are
carbon dioxide and water, which also happen to be the products of the first phase
of anaerobic decomposition (Arigala et al, 1995, Commission of the E.C., 1992). According
to the above, it seems that anaerobic processes are located around the area of the
borehole No 12.
The anaerobic process around the borehole No 12 area is confirmed by the fact that
in this area the waste were disposed, just before the closure of the landfill. The
last waste disposed at winter of 1992 and so the waste are relatively humid.
Contemporary, waste were compacted because the waste collection vehicles
passed over the specific location to unload the wastes.
Three different scenarios can occur about the rest of the landfill: anaerobic
decomposition (at the first phase) or a low intensity fire inside the waste
volume or aerobic decomposition.
The first scenario is quite unlike given that the disposal of MSW have stopped since
1992. Free air circulation and no compaction of the waste, stand for the
exclusion of the anaerobic decomposition. Also, the elapsed time for the initiation
of the first phase of the anaerobic decomposition is obviously less than 4 years

(Tchobanoglous et al, 1993). The scenario of a low intensity fire, can hardly be accepted as
well as the existence of such a fire is almost impossible for a so large area, in a landfill
characterised by 6% organic carbon. Thus aerobic decomposition of MSW is
the main process running inside the waste volume. The presence of relatively
high amounts of CO2 (Table 2) at some boreholes indicates that the process
touches its peak while the low values at some other boreholes indicate the end of the
process. The analogy of the measured oxygen and carbon dioxide ranges
considerably, even between adjacent boreholes. This fact proves the great unevenness
and the local features of the aerobic processes.

Uncontrolled landfills are a “hot spot” at SWM, because they were the most conventional (and
environmental dangerous) way of disposal for many years. Especially in Greece, the restoration of
such landfills is an extremely urgent task.
The restoration of uncontrolled landfills is a complicated scientific and technical problem, mainly due
to the lack of information and the unhomogeneity of the processes inside the
waste heap. Furthermore scientific knowledge about dumped waste behavior originates mainly
from sanitary landfilling or laboratory experiments and so it is very difficult to simulate a real
uncontrolled landfill using this knowledge.
In order to design a restoration plan, it is necessary to have an adequate knowledge at least about:
• composition and quantity of disposed solid wastes
• mechanical, physicochemical and biological changes inside the waste heap
• the main processes affecting the waste volume
The precise estimation of such required data and the complete investigation of an uncontrolled
landfill presupposes, usually, a high and not available budget. Thus, the practical question is “how to
get the maximum possible knowledge (about the landfill), in a way that guarantees a safe and
succesfull restoration, spending the minimum money?”.
The answer can be given using methods that examine and investigate the overall behavior of the
landfill, like geophysical research and biogas measurements. Such methods provide the required data
in a more representative way than the local sampling and laboratory analysis. The combination of the
resulted data is a key - point to the whole data processing.

Table 1 shows the corelation between the required information and the data
resources, as they were settled by the authors in the framework of the specific project of Kareas
landfill. The outcome summarizes to the following:
• The waste bedding is controlled by the waste weight and the presence of large
uncompacted waste pockets within the heap, which form a lot of air passageways and
finally free air circulation conditions inside the waste volume.
• The MSW are about 20% by weight of the disposed waste. The rest 80% are
mainly inert waste.
• Aerobic process is the main decomposition process inside the waste volume, with the
exception of the number 12 borehole area, which is characterised by anaerobic
decomposition of MSW.
The uniformity of the results derived from field and laboratory measurements,
supports the reliability of the final conclusions.

Arigala S., Tsotsis T., Webster I., Yortsos Y. (1995) Gas Generation, transport and extraction in
landfills, Journal of Environmental Engineering, vol. 121, N.1, p. 33-44

COMMISSION OF THE E.C. (1992) Landfill gas from environment to energy, Brussels, part II, p.

Frantzis I., Agapitidis I.(1993) Στρατηγική της Τ.Α. για την διαχείριση των απορριμμάτων
στην Ελλάδα (The Local Administration Strategic for the SWM in Greece), ΕΕΤΑΑ, Athens, p.18

Lekkas T., Giannopoulos J., Razis J. (1991) Συγκριτική παρουσίαση μεθόδων διαχείρισης αστικών
στερεών αποβλήτων (Comparative presentation of SWM methods), Aegean University, Department of the
Environment, p.9

Little R.H., Torres C, Towler P.A., Simon I., Aguero A. (1995) Long term environmental impacts of landfills using
safety assessment comparison methodology, FFifth Intenational Landfill Symposium, Proceedings
Sardinia 95, p.443

Luning L., Tent J. (1993) Gaseous emission of landfill sites, Fourth Intenational Landfill
Symposium, Proceedings Sardinia 93 I, p. 657

National Technical University of Athens, Mining Technology Laboratory (1996) Μελέτη

περιβαλλοντικών επιπτώσεων και αποκατάσταση ανενεργού λατομείου περιοχής Καρέα
(Environmental Impact Study and Restoration of the abandoned Kareas quarry landfill), Part II
p. 69-76

Straka F., Crha J., Kobrova Y. (1993) Important changes in sanitary landfills during their ageing,
Fourth Intenational Landfill Symposium, Proceedings Sardinia 93 I, p.573

Tchobanoglous G., Theissen H., Elliasen R. (1977) Solid Wastes, Mc Graw-Hill, New York, p. 327-

Tchobanoglous G., Theissen H., Vigli S. (1993) Integrated Solid Wastes Management, Mc Graw-Hill, New
York, p. 385 -390