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Landfill vows to end big stink in Rostraver

| Thursday, April 4, 2013, 2:01 a.m.

The Tervita landfill in Rostraver Township must find another way eliminate a foul odor, and nearby residents are out of patience.

Several residents tore into Tervita representatives at the township commissioners' meeting Wednesday, aiming their latest frustrations at the company's newly-appointed regional director of operations – John Schwalbe.

He is responsible the Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia area.

Schwalbe acknowledged the landfill has changed course and will install a gas extrication system that involves drilling holes into the landfill where underlying methane gas into will be piped out and burned off.

“The plan we have is very encompassing, and it is a continuing process,” he said. “What we're doing is adding layers to it.”

He vowed that the company will execute the first of three phases for gas extraction, which will be 30 percent completed in the coming weeks.

He declined to provide a timetable.

The landfill had installed a mist-spraying deodorizer around its perimeter to neutralize the odor. The deodorizer began operating at the end of January to no avail.

The meeting coincided with the Department of Environmental Protection's release of air quality readings conducted near the landfill Feb. 21 and 22.

The report indicated the landfill is discharging vast amounts of methane gas.

The odorless methane combines with methyl mercaptan, which is what DEP spokesman John Poister said emits the “rotten egg” stench that has plagued nearby residents in Rostraver, Monessen and North Belle Vernon.

In a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon, Poister said the state agency will conduct “enforcement action” against Tervita.

Poister could not specify the department's limits on such emissions or what actions would be taken against the landfill.

“Our leverage is, we could shut them down if there is no cooperation, but they are not resisting us,” Poister said. “They are building out their well system, and we believe that will solve the problem.”

The DEP has already cited the landfill five times for offsite odors, beginning in July of 2011. He said fines or threats are not the ultimate goal – but eliminating the stench is. Poister added that the methane does not pose a health risk when blended with the air.

“We already knew the problem was being caused by methane gas. All this did was verify that,” Poister said of the testing. “Ultimately, fines don't mean anything. Most companies will weigh (fines) as simply a cost of doing business.”

He said numbers from the mobile lab gave the agency more leverage than a fine ever could.

“It's all there in black and white now,” he said. “You have an offsite odor problem you have to solve. Now, how do we do it?”

He said the mobile lab equipment did not pick up any trace of hydrogen sulfide, which was suspected by some residents.

“In this case, they know where the problem is,” Poister added. “They thought they could use other means to control the odors, and those have not worked.”

Schwalbe said he will lay out specifics about the augmented extraction process at the township's next public meeting on April 17. He added that landfill manager Ron Levine, who had represented the company at previous meetings, was on vacation.

Commissioners Andy Temoshenka and Don Bottman both told Schwalbe they have grown tired of lip service and promises, and that it is time for results. Bottman said landfill representatives have lost their credibility.

“I think one of the problems here is we have given you time and time and time, and we've been getting a lot of talk, but it's just talk,” Temoshenka said.

“We're looking for an answer, and if you don't have it, you're giving us no alternative but to take action against you any way that we can.”

“I know you're hearing it again, but allow me to demonstrate that this is going more steps, further steps, and these things are engineered very easily,” Schwalbe said.

“Let our actions speak for us over the next several weeks.”

Lenity School Road resident Deb Fought, who has continually contacted neighbors, the DEP and federal government agencies about the odor, said she now smells ammonia on her property and demanded the odor cease now.

Fought said she had previously dealt with other landfill officials, including Levine, and told Schwalbe he was the company's latest “sacrificial lamb.”

That drew laughter from most in attendance.

“Once again you can't breathe on our road … and on Easter, once again, I get to smell the odor,” she yelled. “I am tired of getting told ‘I don't smell it.' Am I angry? Yes I'm angry. If you need to change well heads, new pumps, vacuum curtains; why on earth has it been since 2011 ... I have been told so many time it's going to get fixed that I just don't believe it.”

What is not in question is the landfill's acceptance of drill cuttings from regional natural gas drilling and its role in the release of the odorous gasses.

Dr. George Feoder, also of Lenity School Road, suggested the landfill stop accepting the drill cuttings and subsequent wet waste that is causing the decomposition and subsequent odor.

Feoder said the landfill not only can solve the odor problem, but keeps adding to it for profit.

“You can't keep adding to the situation and then say you're trying to play catch-up,” Feoder said. “Stop now. Solve the problem.”

When asked if the landfill would be willing to stop accepting drilling byproducts until the situation was resolved, Schwalbe was noncommittal.

“In my time with Tervita, it is a safety focus and being a good corporate citizen focus. And I intend to make sure we prove that here,” he said. “We can talk again in two weeks.”

Schwalbe, when asked why gas extraction was not immediately considered, said it was determined to be the latest and best option.

“In the solid waste business, there are a lot of tools in the tool chest and … We're going to use all the tools and the technology that we have available,” he said.

Pricedale resident Jack Kruell accused Tervita of “creating a brownfield (area)” and said he's suffered from breathing problems he's never had before.

“I'm getting a chemical lobotomy,” he said. “Your handling systems aren't handling the methane, and they weren't handling what the previous owners did. And I don't believe it's ever been updated.”

He also expressed concern about water contamination from the landfill, as well as echoing residents' concern' over the height of the landfill and potential loss of property values.

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

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