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Health Board Will Track Landfill’s Odor Control Efforts

Posted in: Bourne News, Top Stories
Dec 12, 2008 - 12:29:54 PM

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BOURNE- The message that was brought to selectmen from at least two landfill neighbors who came to Tuesday’s meeting was stark: if the Bourne facility cannot get its odor under control, it should be closed. The neighbors came to the meeting to tell selectmen just how bad that odor is in their part of town.
“It’s awful,” selectmen heard. “It’s bad.” “It’s disgusting.”
Landfill management, however, said they were confident they would be able to contain escaping smells long before such a drastic solution needed to be contemplated.
The following night, Wednesday, the Bourne Board of Health put some not so drastic measures in place to help ensure that the odor issues are solved, including protocols for prompt notification of problems and the provision of a detailed description of all proposed remedial actions. Further, board of health members said, that list of actions has to be accompanied by an exact timetable for their completion. They set up a joint meeting between their board, landfill management, and the Department of Environmental Protection to which selectmen have been invited. It is scheduled for 6 PM this coming Wednesday at the Bourne Veterans Memorial Community Center in Buzzards Bay.
At Tuesday’s selectmen’s meeting, Selectman John A. Ford started his remarks by telling Brent C. Goins, head of the town’s Department of Solid Waste Management, that he and his wife drove past the landfill last Saturday and found the odor “horrendous.” Mr. Ford said they could drive out of the smell, but that nearby homeowners could not.
Debbie L. Segal, who lives in the Trade Winds area, about a mile away from the landfill, said the odor issue came to a head for her about a month ago when neighbors started coming to her asking questions about the smell, such as, “Is it the septic system?”
Ms. Segal said she talked with landfill operations manager Daniel Barrett about the smell about two weeks ago. She said she had heard it reported that the problem would be under control in two weeks, and then, after that, in another two weeks. She said at Tuesday’s meeting that it ought to be under control “today.”
Ms. Segal also said she subsequently talked with David B. Ellis of the state Department of Environmental Protection, who told her Bourne would be fined on account of the problem. It is a violation of DEP rules if smell travels beyond a landfill’s boundaries.
Ms. Segal said she was paying taxes for this landfill and she did not want her tax money going toward the payment of fines.
Her sentiments were echoed by William E. Shay, also of Trade Winds. Mr. Shay said he had been living with the problem daily for four months. He could not leave his windows open during the summer, he said, because the smell was “just disgusting.”
He also said, “The town is creating this nuisance: it runs the landfill, and makes money out of it.”
He then suggested that “a town that survives on a dump and single-family housing,” does not have a recipe for success, a comment that was prompted, in part, by an announcement made earlier in the selectmen’s meeting that 86 percent of Bourne’s taxable properties are residential.
Stephen F. Mealy, chairman of the selectmen, who acknowledged Mr. Shay’s comments, said at the beginning of the odor discussion that the board of health had regulatory authority over the landfill, and that while selectmen wanted to hear the issues, and would have some input on the situation, corrective measures were under the oversight of the Board of Health.
Mr. Ford, who served as the town’s chief of police for about 20 years, said the landfill smell was the worst that he remembered in all his years in town. He asked Mr. Goins what had changed to make the smell so bad.
Selectmen heard that landfill operators originally thought that the problem stemmed solely from the installation of a new section of liner, a job that required exposing a portion of the waste once covered by the edge of the old liner to the air, allowing smelly gases to escape.
On Thanksgiving weekend, when the contractor installing the new liner left a section of waste exposed, and the landfill’s backup blower failed, the smell was particularly bad.
Mr. Goins  reported that the method for joining two liners together would be changed when such a thing has to be done in the future. The new, proposed method would not allow for the escape of gas.
A bio filter and odor suppression system were installed to help cure the problem.
However, even though the liner sections have been successfully joined and the landfill’s slopes have been sealed, the odor continues.
That continuation led landfill officials to discover that activities in the active area of the landfill contributed to the odor, Mr. Goins said, A horizontal gas collection system is being installed to assist in disposing of offending gases. That installation, itself, involves disturbing the landfill’s surface, he said.
Mr. Goins said he expects the odor to subside after the system is put in.
The future installation of permanent vertical extraction wells is also planned. Additional odor-neutralizing equipment has been ordered.
One of the short answers Mr. Goins had for Selectman Ford’s question as to what might have been done differently addressed last Saturday’s smell. Mr. Goins raised the possibility that some of the intermediate cover that was placed on the landfill’s slopes to help control odor might have had a larger mix than customary of construction and demolition materials.
When the gypsum in wallboard breaks down, it releases noxious sulfur dioxide gases that smell like rotten eggs. It does not take a large amount of SO2 to cause odors, Mr. Goins said.
Ms. Segal asked whether there were health impacts from continual exposure to the gases. Sulfur dioxide has been well studied, Mr. Goins said, and while it is an irritant, it is not a health hazard unless someone is exposed to very large quantities that have been confined in a very small space.
Mr. Goins said his department works hard to eliminate gypsum from the materials it receives.
The possibility of fines, which Mr. Goins said might be more than $6,000 for the latest violation and some lesser amount for a previous ones, prompted a question as to who would pay those fines. Mr. Goins said they would come from departmental retained earnings, so the cost would not fall directly on taxpayers.
Mr. Ford pointed out there would be some indirect effects, such as less money for the landfill’s closure and post-closure funds.
Asked about the possibility that the DEP might close the landfill, Mr. Goins said such a thing was possible if the landfill could not get the odor problem under control. He also said that there had been “absolutely no” discussion of that possibility.
In answer to selectmen’s questions, he said that there were sufficient funds in a closure and post-closure funds to shut down the operation were it necessary. Setting money aside to put a final cover over the landfill and monitor it for 30 years post-closure is mandated by law.
Town Administrator Thomas M. Guerino added that, while closing the landfill now would be devastating to the town budget, which expects a host fee of $350,000 in Fiscal Year 2010, the town is working to reduce its reliance on landfill funds by about 3.5 percent each year.
Mr. Goins reasserted that he has no doubt that the landfill would solve the odor problem. He said he it would be “a lot better” by Tuesday 12/16; and “substantially corrected” by December 23, based on the current timing of construction activities.
He said he could not guarantee a date by which the odor would be completely contained.
Health Agent Cynthia A. Coffin said the board of health felt confident that the landfill was doing everything it could to remediate the odor situation, but wanted detailed information as to the shifts in, and timing of, those actions. The joint discussion with the DEP and others is open to the public.