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At Former Landfill, RFID Monitors Workers and Waste

As contaminated soil and hazardous refuse are removed from the site, a location-tracking system ensures that workers can be rapidly evacuated during emergencies, and that containers of waste are properly routed.
By Brett Neely
Jul 25, 2008Sondermülldeponie Kölliken (SMDK), a hazardous waste landfill in Kölliken, Switzerland, has adopted an ultra-wideband (UWB) location-tracking RFID system that can pinpoint employees and containers within its contaminated areas (known within the industry as "black areas"). The landfill is in the midst of a multiyear decommissioning program that will remove 545,000 tons of waste and ground cover from the site, located approximately 50 kilometers (31 miles) west of Zurich. Between 1978 and 1985, the site served as the repository for waste of "many different kinds and compositions," according to SMDK's Web site.

When the local government discovered that chemicals at the landfill site were leaching into the groundwater and threatening the drinking water, it ordered the complete dismantling of the landfill. The decommissioning is currently being carried out by a consortium known as ARGE Phoenix, and the waste removal is scheduled for completion by the end of 2012.

A dredger deposits contaminated soil in RFID-tagged containers.

The project calls for the construction of a building covering the entire landfill. As contaminated materials are removed, the air pressure within the work area is kept low, to prevent the escape of dust, gas and odors. The first phase of the ultra-wideband system took three months from conception to implementation, according to Thomas Kersten, a project manager with the endeavor's prime contractor, ESG, a German company specializing in IT systems integration.

The site's regulators required escape routes for all workers within the "black" areas, which cover slightly more than 50 percent of the 7-hectare site. The original decommissioning plan called for escape tunnels, but these proved impractical for both engineering and cost reasons. "So one guy said, 'Maybe it's enough if we can track every employee on the site,'" says Bruno Becker, marketing manager for Ubisense, which manufactures the UWB sensors (readers) and battery-powered tags used at SMDK. "It's really the first project of this sort."

The tracking system enables SMDK's management to know the precise whereabouts of all workers within the site's "black" areas so it can maintain a precise head count in case of a fire or other emergency, and rescue any employees having difficulty evacuating to safety. To date, SMDK has not experienced any emergencies since implementing the system.

Using the same UWB technology, SMDK has also deployed a waste container tracking system. As containers filled with contaminated dirt depart the facility, interrogators scan each container's tag and verify whether it is the proper container headed for the correct destination.

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