Families sue over landfill's bad odor

| Saturday, Aug. 3, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Mona Belcyzk would like nothing more than to sit on her Rostraver porch once she returns home from heart surgery.

But that simple pleasure has been denied because of odors wafting from a nearby landfill, according to a lawsuit filed by more than 50 Rostraver families against landfill owner Tervita LLC.

“Yes, we moved here knowing there was a landfill nearby, but there wasn't a problem until about five years ago. We can't open our windows, we can't sit on our porches, we can't eat outside because of the terrible, terrible smell, and we're all just sick and tired of it,” Belcyzk said.

She and her husband, Stanley, are among the families who filed the lawsuit on Tuesday in Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court. The suit claims Tervita negligently and recklessly operates the facility that serves as a disposal site for trash and drilling cuttings.

The neighbors contend a “malodorous” gas wafting over their homes for the past two years is coming from the landfill at 111 Conner Lane.

The Calgary, Canada-based company has U.S. headquarters in Texas. Officials at the Rostraver office did not return telephone calls seeking comment on Friday, but a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection said landfill operators are working to find a solution.

“We've called them and called them asking them to do something about it, and they tell us they will, but nothing is ever done. I'm going in for heart surgery next month, and there's nothing more I'd like to be able to do than come home and recuperate by sitting on my porch like I used to be able to do,” Belczyk said.

“They say they spray, and they're going to fix this and that, but it never changes. You're embarrassed to have your friends and family over. It never used to be this way,” she said.

Neighbors started noticing unpleasant odors in August 2011, according to the suit filed by attorney Dennis Rafferty.

“The operation of ... (the landfill) has created a private nuisance in that currently release of air pollution and landfill gases ... has caused substantial and unreasonable interference with the ease and enjoyment of plaintiffs' properties,” the suit states.

In the lawsuit, neighbors said the gassy smell emanating from the landfill resembles that of “rotten cabbage.”

State environmental officials said methane gas emissions are not unusual for landfills, but operators are required to control the amount that leaks into the atmosphere.

Tervita received a violation in 2011 from the state for failing to adequately capture the noxious odors, and the company paid a $1,000 fine, according to agency spokesman John Poister.

Since early 2012, Poister said, the DEP has received 64 complaints about the landfill.

In February, the agency sent a mobile monitoring unit to evaluate gas emissions from the landfill.

Three additional violations have been issued in the past year, including one in March. All are pending, state records show.

Poister said landfill operators have agreed to a plan to cover a section of the landfill and extend wells in an effort to reduce the emissions.

“We're working with them, and they're working with us. We will continue to watch them closely,” he said.

Tervita's permit is due to expire on July 30 next year, but officials said the company is expected to seek a renewal.

The 270-acre landfill is slightly more than half full. Poister said Tervita still has 150 acres of empty space at the facility.

In the lawsuit, its neighbors seek an unspecified amount in damages for annoyance, inconvenience and discomfort and loss of enjoyment of their property.

Staff writer Paul Peirce contributed to this report. Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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