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DEP will cite Rostraver landfill

| Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 1:11 a.m.

The Tervita Westmoreland Landfill in Rostraver Township will receive a formal notice of violation and a fine by the state for emitting foul odors.

Spokesman John Poister said Department of Environmental Protection inspectors on Wednesday and Thursday detected a strong smell – likely methane – coming from a portion of the landfill.

“Our inspectors found there was one particular area on site covered over with dirt that was particularly odorous,” Poister said.

“We have cited them in the past, but this is the first time our people were really able to identify it both on-site and off-site.”

The DEP has cited the landfill four times – three because of odor emissions – since July 2011.

On March 28, 2012, the DEP issued a $12,500 fine based on the first two violations and, Aug. 14, 2012, another citation was issued for failing to adequately quash the odor.

“No matter what they take in, there's a certain amount of decay and breakdown that results in methane gas,” Poister said. “That's not unusual for a landfill.”

Dozens of residents, however, have complained for more than a year to the DEP and elected officials about the stench of rotten eggs.

“The fine is more of a symbol. What we're really going after here is to fix the problem,” Poister said. “What we really want to get out of this is for the people living around there not putting up with odors and address their concerns about what's coming out of that landfill.”

The landfill began operating a mist-spraying system that emits a chemical deodorizer to neutralize odor, but has run into problems related to low temperatures causing water lines to freeze.

Poister said the landfill must address the issue by expanding its negative pressure extraction system, which sucks the gas into a giant flare system that burns at 1600 degrees.

“In the course of our inspection, it was obvious their methane removal system wasn't enough,” Poister said.

“In the meantime, we also advised them – not an order – they might want to cover the area with large tarp and add a temporary portable vacuum system.”

At a Rostraver Township commissioners work session Wednesday, landfill manager Ron Levine admitted his company did not anticipate the degree of problems with containing the stench.

He confirmed that he and Tervita have been “taking our lumps.”

“Is it a nuisance gas, yes? Is it a toxic gas? No. Is the odor an issue? Yes. We've identified the area of the landfill that is causing the issue,” Levine said last week. “There is no killer gas up there. This is not a toxic environment where we're going to risk our lives or your lives.”

Poister repeated his past assessment that the DEP contends the spray is nontoxic.

“It's generally used for deodorizing purposes by some of the most environmentally-safe states like Washington state,” Poister said. “It could possibly be (harmful) in very high concentrations, but our people don't believe that's even the case.

“It's used universally as a deodorizer and it's mixed in a 1-to-5,000 (ratio with water), so it's very dissipated.

“The fact is, the landfill smells. That is what a lot of the residents have been calling us about, and that, frankly, is our first priority.”

At the request of state Rep. Ted Harhai, D-Monessen, and the Rostraver commissioners, the DEP spent two eight-hour shifts last week testing air around the landfill with equipment from a mobile analytical lab.

Poister said the results will be available “in three to four weeks.”

“We use a spectrometer, which is essentially a beam that you send to a receiver. And it logs everything in the air that crosses the beam,” Poister explained. “What you get is an enormous readout of numbers, and they use an algorithm which incorporates the background away from the landfill and determines the presence of various things.”

Some residents said they feared the landfill is giving off hydrogen sulfide and other harmful gasses along with the methane.

Poister promised the lab results will confirm or refute the existence of such gasses, adding the agency often tests for what they call “The Big Three:” methane, hydrogen sulfide and benzene – a potential carcinogen.

“We are not saying the residents shouldn't be watchful and shouldn't be concerned. Certainly their nose tells them they're smelling stuff they shouldn't be smelling,” he said.

“We've been vigilant with this landfill. We want to determine with strong accuracy what exactly is coming out of there. With this test, it will give us a good road map.”

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

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