Rostraver folks raise landfill stink
A pungent smell continues to waft from the Tervita-owned landfill in Rostraver Township, and as time has passed, suspicions from residents have grown deeper and their questions more technical.
Along with Commissioner Andy Temoshenka, several residents peppered landfill general manager Ron Levine with questions at Wednesday's Rostraver commissioners' monthly meeting – not so much about the smell, but on potential health hazards.
And Levine, who at one point joked he was “on trial,” tried to pacify residents by saying the air they breathe is safe.
“A lot of things are said that is misinformation, and I can't combat every piece of misinformation that comes out of peoples' mouths. But we're going to do the best we can,” Levine said.
“We have never shied away, we have never not come to a meeting, we've never not taken our lumps here.”
But residents like Debbie Fought, who lives on Lenity School Road near the landfill's main entrance, demanded answers, claiming the odor has permeated her bedroom on several occasions.
Fought said she has questions about air quality and the height of the landfill, noting that she photographed the site from the nearby Walmart parking lot.
“Nobody is regulating this but the DEP, and every time I talk to them, they keep telling me they've been carved down to bare bones.” She asked, “What am I breathing?”
“I've been to these meetings and, quite truthfully, I just don't know who to believe,” she added.
Temoshenka said he received an email from the state Department of Environmental Protection stating the agency would soon perform air testing around the landfill's perimeter at an unspecified time.
But the commissioners, led by Commissioner Gary Beck's suggestion, said they will consider bringing in a private company to test the area.
Afterward, Levine said he welcomes testing.
“Maybe it's time we bring in an independent outside agency to try and find out what this problem is and get it corrected,” Beck said. “You know, we sit here every month, and we are concerned. But it goes back to the DEP with this and the DEP with that. … I do think it's time we bring a new set of eyes in and go on from there.”
The odor, which smells like rotten eggs, first caught residents' attention more than a year ago.
The landfill has installed a mist-spraying system to neutralize the odor, and ran it Jan. 30 through Feb. 1 until the lines froze.
Levine said the landfill can run the system until temperatures reach 20 degrees or lower, but the risk of lines snapping and other hazards occur when temperatures dipped into single digits last week.
“We knew that it would run in the high-20s, because moving water won't freeze unless it gets really, really cold. But all of sudden, it got into those teens, and we ran it to the point where we were afraid of breaking it,” Levine said. “If we'd have had a mild winter like we had the past couple, it wouldn't have been a problem.”
He added the company is entertaining two other options: an insulation system for the lines and a temporary waterless system.
“We're doing at least one, if not both of them,” Levine said. “We've spent $150,000 on the system already. There's no way we're not going to let this thing work, whether it's $25,000 or more.”
However, Pricedale resident Jack Kruell presented his suspicions to Levine and 30-plus people in attendance.
Kruell questioned the contents of the mist's chemical composition, claiming a chemical compound in the solution – nonyl phenoxy polyethoxy ethanol – is classified as hazardous.
“First of all, I've used these enzymes at other locations to neutralize odor, and I've been around this a long time,” said Levine, adding he's distributed material safety data sheets from Washington, D.C.-based Benzaco Scientific Inc., the company that installed the mist-spraying system.
Kreull said that information was missing a key component.
“This is in the state right-to-know law, and if you go on the last page of regulation information, it says ‘warning: this product contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer … and birth defects',” Kruell said.
“If everybody was true and forward, this data should've been included on (the material safety data sheet).”
Kruell added the product does not eliminate the danger of breathing in hydrogen sulfide gas, which he believes the landfill is discharging.
“If I was pumping out cyanide, and I used this product, we could make you a floral bouquet smell, but .. you're still breathing it,” Kruell said. “It's a mask, so you're using a hazardous chemical to treat a hazardous chemical.”
Levine later refuted Kruell's assertion.
“If what you were smelling was hydrogen sulfide, I wouldn't be standing here, because I'd be dead … none of us would be here,” Levine said. “I don't want to be sick. I don't want anybody here to be sick.”
Temoshenka, who performed a walk-through Tuesday afternoon at the landfill, asked Levine if the stench was a direct result of the landfill accepting byproducts from natural gas drilling.
“Did this odor not start when you started to take in this fracking water?” Temoshenka asked.
“No, it did not,” Levine said. “We started at the end of 2009.”
Fracking is an industry term for hydraulic fracturing, a process in which water and chemicals are pumped underground to break up shale and release natural gas and oil.
“It seems like right after that started, everything started to hit the fan,” Temoshenka interjected.
“The waste is definitely causing a problem because of the mixture of high-moisture waste that we took,” Levine said.
“Our waste is detained at such a higher rate. We are off-gassing a lot more in a much shorter time period. … We've created more odor. It's not the waste material itself. It's the biodegradation of the landfill and that natural process that is causing the odor.”
“So the answer is yes?” Temoshenka asked.
“I took you right up to the waste area, and the first thing you guys said is, ‘Oh it doesn't smell up here,'” Levine replied.
“It wasn't the waste itself. It was the waste under the ground. Because we have some wetter waste coming in, it has accelerated the degradation process. ... So, yes, it's creating the gas curve that's much faster than it normally would at the landfill, and that's why we've installed additional wells much faster than we normally would.”
Levine asserted that the landfill takes in only liquid containing drill cuttings, not actual fracking water.
“There's a total difference between drill cuttings that are wet and frack water … they actually constantly run water to keep their equipment cool enough to continue to drill,” Levine said. “So everything does turn into a muddy solution. We don't deal with the frack water business or the brine water business.
“Those things go to deep-well injection facilities. … There's no way we could take that kind of volume. The whole landfill would just slide away.”
Levine brought along a radiation expert: Todd Mobley, director at Applied Health Physics of Bethel Park, to alleviate the residents' alarm at potential radiation exposure.
Mobley insisted materials with natural radiation being trucked into the landfill, specifically the drill cuttings, are inspected at the entrance with ultra-sensitive equipment.
Levine added he hopes a thaw will soon allow the landfill to reactivate the odor-neutralizing system.
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2635.
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