Landfill odor control system on the way for Rostraver
The Tervita-owned landfill in Rostraver Township will have its odor neutralizing system operational by Jan. 31, weather-permitting, according to manager Ron Levine.
The mist-spraying system is designed to eliminate a stench coming from the landfill for months.
However, some residents and area officials are concerned about possible health hazards that might not be addressed along with the odor.
State Rep. Ted Harhai, D-Monessen, has asked the state Department of Environmental Protection to conduct air-quality tests at the site.
“If I have a bad knee and you give me a pain pill, and the pain goes away, I still have a bad knee,” Harhai said. “We can take care of the smell, but we're treating the symptoms. Once you mask the smell, that's only half the battle.”
DEP Regional Spokesman John Poister said air testing around the landfill's perimeter is planned.
The agency uses a mobile lab that can perform sophisticated air analysis. The truck is kept in Harrisburg.
“I've seen it in operation; it's rather impressive,” Poister said. “They were testing fumes, and they could literally pick up the exhaust from a lawn mower across the street.”
Levine tried to alleviate health concerns by answering questions and distributing literature at a Jan. 16 meeting with the Rostraver Township commissioners and residents.
“We have 35 people working up there, including me,” Levine said. “If we had anything hazardous coming out of this landfill, I wouldn't have anyone working up there, and I'm not coming to a place every day that's dangerous.
“There are no emissions from the landfill that are harmful to anybody.”
In a letter to DEP Operations Supervisor Dave Leiford, Harhai noted concerns over “a hovering white cloud” above a dumping area, dust blowing off the site and possible asbestos intake.
“From years past, they took in questionable waste,” Harhai said. “If that's the case, and you're emitting the methane gas, what's coming with it? If you're digging down through all those layers, that's coming out too.”
Leiford referred all questions to Poister, who said the landfill has cooperated with agency inspectors. Poister confirmed the landfill has been cited four times in the past 18 months – three related to odor emissions.
The first notice of violation came July 11, 2011.
“They were bringing in drill cuttings from gas wells, and those are mixed with water when they come in. Our regulations call for them to dry that material,” Poister said.
“What they were supposed to do under their plan was put the cuttings in metal containers with a drying agent, and they were not doing that. They were just putting it in the landfill and not doing a good job of drying it out.”
Poister said the DEP on Oct. 3, 2011, cited the landfill for failure to implement its plan to eliminate offsite odors.
On March 28, the DEP imposed a $12,500 fine based on the first two violations.
On Aug. 14, another citation was issued for failing to deal with odor.
“This is not a case where they're just ignoring our notices,” Poister said. “They're trying to work with us. But often the solutions for odors can be elusive.
“You can stand in one place and be overwhelmed, and two days later, there's no odor. What is causing the odor, and what can we do to stop it? The operator has demonstrated they want to work with it.”
As for Harhai's concern over asbestos and other materials, Poister said the DEP is “very watchful” over the disposal of such materials.
“(Asbestos) is permitted to be disposed in landfills, but it has to be properly enclosed, labeled and disposed of under national standards,” he said.
“We have not seen any indication the asbestos going in the landfill is being disposed of improperly, but we're watchful. We have inspectors on the scene. It's not something we handle by remote control.”
Levine previously stated the odor resulted from a recent spike in the intake of moist wastes, which includes byproducts from natural gas extraction.
Levine said the landfill is placing the wet material in wells and using “a negative pressure gas extraction system,” mainly a giant vacuum, to suck the gas through piping and burn it at 1600 degrees Fahrenheit.
Both Harhai and Rostraver Township Commissioner Andy Temoshenka have lamented their only real leverage to regulate the landfill comes through the DEP.
Temoshenka said he and the other commissioners plan to tour the site with Levine after the odor neutralizing system is in operation, adding potential health hazards from emissions are always a concern.
The commissioner was pleased to hear about the air testing.
“(Levine) answered all our questions at the meeting, but he was vague about when he would have everything completed,” Temoshenka said. “I've had complaints from people who live a pretty good distance away having that smell.
“We made some suggestions to write the DEP to have that mobile unit come up and test. The commissioners are absolutely united in doing what we have to do to solve this problem.”
Temoshenka indicated the commissioners have been patient with the landfill's timeline.
Recent cold weather has delayed a Washington, D.C.-based company from implementing the odor neutralizing system.
“The landfill is in compliance with all the regulations,” Levine said. “I know it's been a nuisance to people, but we're not talking about something that's dangerous out here.
“It's a nuisance issue, but it's not a health issue.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.