Posted: Saturday, January 24, 2015 8:33 am
By CARRIE STAMBAUGH / For The Independent
PRINCESS The number Boyd County residents complaining to environmental regulators about a foul odor emanating from Big Run Landfill numbered in the hundreds during 2014.
Complaints rose sharply from previous years, and are on pace to set a record in 2015, said officials Friday.
The Division for Air Quality office in Ashland fielded 593 complaints about Big Run during 2014. Those numbers are up from 135 complaints in 2013, 45 in 2012 and 36 in 2011. Between Jan. 1 and Jan. 20, 2015 regulators have fielded an additional 152 calls, according to the Cabinet for Energy and Environmental Protection.
“We have a steady and increasing number of complaints. It’s a big issue and it’s impacting a lot of folks,” said Jarrod Bell, an environmental scientist with the DAQ director’s office. He assured residents the state is taking those complaints seriously and is working within its statutory authority to enforce existing rules and regulations regarding air quality laws.
Bell said the 2014 complaints triggered 172 investigations by air quality officials that resulted in 24 notices of violations being issued to Big Run and its parent company EnviroSolutions Inc., based in Manassas, Va.
To address the nuisance odors, ESI has been ordered to complete a list of upgrades, repairs, and maintenance on its gas collection systems, said Bell. These are spelled out in a January 2014 Consent Agreement signed by regulators and Big Run.
ESI has also paid a number of civil penalties associated with the violations and could be subjected to additional penalties for additional violations, he said.
Landfill officials claim, and regulators concur, that the recent uptick in odor problems is the direct result of a 2013 landslide involving nine acres containing approximately 800,000 tons of earth and waste. The slide occurred along the northeast edge of Big Run’s 256 permitted acres, in the oldest part of the landfill.
Scott Cunningham, ESI Region Vice President for the Northeast, said the slide was caused by numerous factors including infiltration of rainwater, waste composition, and other variables. The slide involved a cell of the landfill that was engineered and constructed by Big Run’s previous owner Todd Skaggs, who sold the facility to ESI in 2005. Subsequent landfill cells have been engineered and built by Cornerstone Environmental, ESI’s contractor.
Clayton Walton, ESI’s vice president of governmental affairs, explained the slide “took out the gas wells” in that area of the landfill, which in turn has led to the escape of landfill gases that were previously being captured. In addition, the slide exposed once buried waste to oxygen allowing it to re-start the decomposition process, which is what produces odorous landfill gases.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “landfill gas is comprised of approximately 50 percent carbon dioxide, 50 percent methane, and trace amounts of non-methane organic compounds (NMOCs), some of which are listed as hazardous air pollutants under section 112 of the Clean Air Act.”
Clayton said the landfill is “in the process of going through the repair” to damaged area, which include installation of horizontal and vertical gas collection systems. Monitoring of the collected gases is also among the steps ESI agreed to in its consent agreement. An open records request to obtain the document along with and additional information from the Kentucky Department of Energy and Environment is pending.
ESI officials say they are working as quickly as they can to remedy the problem and expect results in February. They want to be a responsible corporate neighbor, and are investing heavily in the facility as a result.
Bell confirmed ESI is working toward goals outlined in the Consent Agreement, which has a May 1 implementation deadline.
Once the repairs are made to damaged structures and additional vertical wells are drilled both in the inactive and active areas of the landfill there will be a total of 60 gas collection points, said Cunningham. Already, he said, “We’re effectively increasing capacity to collect gas.”
Although figures were not immediately available, Cunningham said gas collection has “significantly increased” in recent weeks as gas wells have been installed. He said landfill gas is being burned via a single flare at the facility but the “long-term goal is to use it for something.”
ESI President and CEO Eric Wallace added the collection system would bring Big Run into compliance with New Source Performance Standards set by the EPA before it is required.
Bell explained the amount of regulated gases landfills produce often follow a bell curve shape. They start out slowly, and grow rapidly along with the landfill; often increasing until after the landfill is closed. Then the gases eventually decrease and taper off, he said.
According to Big Run’s last emissions test report in 2011 it had not yet reached the threshold amount that would trigger NSPS standards requiring Big Run to control its emissions with a gas collection system, said Bell.
However, Big Run has violated state standards for ambient air quality as a result of the odor of escaping gases, said Bell. Kentucky has a 7:1 dilution ratio, which Big Run has exceeded on numerous occasions, and is implanting the measures spelled out in the consent decree to control.
Residents who are tired of suffering through years of nuisance odors call it too little too late. They want a total cessation of operations at Big Run, and are calling on regulators to decline a pending permit renewal for operations at Big Run in 2016.
Although the state has the authority to do so should Big Run continue not to meet environmental and regulatory standards, a shutdown would not alone solve the problem of odor, said Bell.
Decomposing waste would remain at the site and continue to produce the gasses associated with the odor, said Bell. “All landfills eventually run out of space and have to be closed. Our regulations address that and monitoring and control requirements in the future, even if new waste is not being added,” he said.
ESI officials say Big Run has a lifespan of approximately 30 years, and the company has invested heavily in its infrastructure, having spent more than $112 million on the facility. According to Big Run officials, the site accepted approximately 1.5 million tons of waste material in 2014, including 1.2 million tons that originated from sources outside of Boyd County.
According to Big Run’s most recently available Quarterly Waste Report, that includes tonnage from July, August and September 2014, the landfill accepted 460,252.01 tons of waste during those months. Of that, approximately 46,589 tons of waste was accepted from Boyd County sources.
The remaining waste originated from a number of counties in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Tennessee, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York and Virginia. The largest single waste source was Essex County, N.J., which contributed 143,652 tons of municipal solid, and “special waste.”
CARRIE STAMBAUGH is a freelance journalist based in Ashland. Contact her at CarrieStambaugh@gmail.com. or visit www.CarrieStambaugh.com