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Rostraver landfill manager vows to stop stench

| Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, 12:34 a.m.

The Rostraver Township Board of Commissioners' meeting Wednesday quickly transformed into an honors chemistry class.

More than a half dozen residents implored the board to end a purported year-long stench emanating from the Sanitary Landfill off Tyrol Boulevard before the company's general manager offered answers and vowed a solution by month's end.

Ron Levine, general manager of the Tervita-owned landfill, said the odor is being caused by sulfide gases. He said the landfill is installing a mist-spraying system that will eliminate the odor by Jan. 25.

The system will involve 2,000 feet of water line, he said.

“I understand this can't be done fast enough,” Levine told the audience of nearly 30 residents. “We are not running away from this problem. We're throwing $200,000 at it.”

The questions and explanations, however, soon became buried in scientific terminology and chemical reactions.

Gases such as hydrogen sulfide are among the most detectable scents to the human nose and give off a “rotten egg” smell – even in microscopic amounts, Levine said.

Levine said his company has installed nearly one-third of the 55 poles that will help create a “curtain” around the affected area.

The mist consists of a hospital-grade enzyme that mixes with the sulfide molecules escaping from underground wells.

Levine said the odor is a result of the landfill seeing a recent spike in the intake of moist wastes, which includes byproducts from natural gas extraction.

Levine and the board, however, were hounded by citizens wanting results after months of complaints and questions going unanswered by the state Department of Environmental Protection and other officials.

Residents listed two primary concerns: decrease in property values and potential health hazards.

Jim Britton of Maria Drive said the stench ruined his Christmas holiday and that his in-laws couldn't wait to exit his car – and “that was with the windows up and in 20-degree temperatures.”

“If you have a nuisance neighbor or a nuisance bar, action is taken,” the 24-year township resident said.

“What are we incurring along with the smell? What is in the air we're breathing?”

Jack Kruell of Pricedale demonstrated his knowledge of chemical reaction, often pointing his explanations directly to Levine. Kruell's main claim – and concern – was that the landfill was accepting hazardous waste from the natural gas drilling, including pump mud and drill cuttings that give off “natural radiation.”

“You basically have substances generating heat and the smells generating from the interaction of chemicals,” claimed Kruell, who said he conducted his own air readings. Kruell handed the results to board President Andy Temoshenka.

“By what method does the material go from a hazardous to a residual classification?” Kruell said. “I don't want to be in Pittsburgh's next ‘Race for the Cure.'”

At one point, Solicitor Al Gaudio interjected during Kruell's communication.

“You sound like a chemistry professor,” Gaudio said, drawing a smattering of laughter from those in attendance. “You do realize we're over our heads here. Does this not sound like something that should be brought before the DEP?”

Levine acknowledged that Kruell's statements were mostly correct but that the landfill was not housing hazardous materials, according to state law. Levine added that Pennsylvania has one of the most stringent sets of regulations for the disposal of natural gas drilling byproducts.

“Classification of the materials is a whole different debate, but they are at a safe, nonhazardous level,” Levine said, adding the landfill performs radiation detection on every truck that enters the facility.

“The drillers come up here and can't believe what they have to do.”

To alleviate the smell, Levine said the landfill is also placing the wet material in wells and using “negative pressure” through a vacuum system while maintaining a certain balance that won't allow the material to ignite.

“Positive pressure means when the gas is created, it wants to leave. Gas wants to vent,” Levine explained. “We drill wells, put in perforated piping and suck the air – which is 50 percent methane – and take it to a giant flare system that burns at 1600 degrees that can destroy everything and give off nothing.”

Temoshenka said afterward he won't be satisfied until the stench ceases, adding he hopes Levine continues to provide the township with reports and updates.

“The ultimate goal is to fix the problem, and it's taken longer than we thought. It was originally supposed to be done by the end of December,” Temoshenka said.

“How long has the landfill been there? And we haven't ever experienced anything this bad. We have to do what we can for our constituents.

“If it's correctable, then correct it and we'll hope it doesn't rear its ugly head again.”

In other action, the board:

• Approved the development of a Taco Bell by Castelli Brothers Co. at the corner of Tri-County Lane and Finley Road, pending sewage authority and DEP approval. The site formerly housed a PNC Bank branch.

• Approved multiple road department expenditures for stone, asphalt and pipe.

• Awarded Glassmere Fuel Service a contract for fueling township vehicles in 2013.

• Awarded the grass-cutting bid to Xtreme Landscaping of Monessen at $54,998 for two years.

• Reappointed the following to township boards: Thomas Trilli, civil service commission; Georgetta Wiles and Judy Yoskosky, library board; William Norman Callaway, sewage authority; John Bedell, zoning hearing board; and Aaron Ochs, recreation commission.

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbruni@tribweb.com or 724-684-2635.

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