Posted: Saturday, January 10, 2015 11:59 am | Updated: 9:39 pm, Sat Jan 10, 2015.
By CARRIE STAMBAUGH For The Independent
PRINCESS For the better part of a decade residents of Boyd County have complained about a stench of rotting garbage emanating from Big Run Landfill.
River Cities Disposal, owned by Virginia-based, EnviroSolutions Inc., operates the 1,500-acre facility, located along U.S. 60. In addition to its rancid smell, the landfill has long been a sore topic for many residents because of the large quantities of out-of-state waste it imports.
Complaints of odor emanating from the landfill and its trash-laden train cars, which often also block road crossings, began almost immediately following the start of rail operations in 2006. EnviroSolutions officials pledged then to address the problem.
In the eight years since, Big Run has installed numerous fans, odor neutralizing misters and fabricated new lids for special trash “gondolas,” all in an attempt to remedy the problem. It has also entered into agreed orders with state regulators and paid a number of fines stemming from these air quality violations.
The pungent smell of garbage has persisted despite these efforts, and has grown worse in recent months. In December more than 100 calls to state Air Quality officials were made complaining about the stench, which can be smelled more than four miles away at times.
Despite a lack of olfactory progress, resident’s opposition appears to have finally succeeded in capturing the landfill operator’s attention. EnviroSolutions officials have pledged, in writing, to enact a series of county government initiated suggestions for odor control and have been cooperating with a county-hired consultant to help troubleshoot.
The company also recently retained a Frankfort-based public relations consultant, Thomas L. Preston, who specializes in corporate crisis prevention, to assist it in managing its reputation. EnviroSolutions also began running a series of “informational advertisements” in The Independent this week, aimed it says at providing residents with “answers and facts.”
Preston, who met with reporters Friday in Ashland, said he will assist EnviroSolutions in “greater interactions” with private citizens and public officials. He added the company is “interested in having smaller meetings” to address resident questions and dispel “a lot of rumors” that “aren’t true” about the landfill.
The statement came in response to a resolution presented to Boyd Fiscal Court officials this week by resident Steve Cole, a member of the county’s community landfill advisory committee. Cole wants court officials to request Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s assistance in gathering all stakeholders together for public hearings about the landfill. “It’s imperative that we have a public hearing so all these issues can be brought out and we all can get on a common page,” said Cole.
Residents have plenty of questions in addition to a host of concerns.
About 40 gathered on Monday at the Boyd County Community Center for the first landfill advisory committee meeting of 2015. Bill Fritz, an environmental consultant specializing in air quality, updated attendees on Big Run’s recent actions to address the odor problem.
Fritz was hired in August to help the court with the landfill, explaining data he’s collected and answering technical questions about the odor and methods of controlling it.
A mixture of hydrogen sulfide, mercaptan, and methane gases are what residents smell, said Fritz. All three are flammable and occur naturally as a byproduct of garbage decomposition. In addition to “plumes” of stinky gas that escape from the trash-laden railcars when they are opened and emptied, large amounts of these gases have now been documented escaping from other areas of the landfill too.
Big Run has responded with a trio of solutions. It has boosted the number of fans to 12 from five. Nine of these emit a water-based odor neutralizer while three use an oil-based solution, which is applied 24 hours a day, and can be used in all types of weather conditions. A chemist has also been hired to craft the right combination of neutralizers, Fritz noted.
In addition, landfill workers have drilled 14 new vertical gas extraction wells, in recent weeks, bringing the total number of gas collection wells to 45. EnviroSolutions now also has two employees dedicated to performing well field inspections, maintenance and well plumbing.
Bill Cunningham, regional vice president of EnviroSolutions Inc., said surface emissions monitoring scans began in early December and will now be performed quarterly. The scans help to detect future gas leaks so they can be controlled.
A new flare system, designed to burn off “waste contaminated gas” will also be installed and is set to be operational by late May, said Fritz. The flares will bring Big Run under a new set of environmental regulations, which will require it to compile an annual “toxic release inventory.”
Fritz said he is “optimistic” residents will smell real results by early spring.
Brad Maggard, a veteran firefighter and a trained fire inspector, says the smell is just the tip of a potentially deadly iceberg of problems associated with the gas leakage at Big Run.
“To me, it’s not a matter of if but when a major fire incident will occur,” he said. “The gas has just freely vented into the air due to a poorly designed and implemented gas collection system. With the massive volume of gas freely venting out of the landfill, it is just a matter of time before it reaches a flammable or explosive concentration somewhere and finds an ignition source.
“Biological decomposition creates heat, which can lead to spontaneous combustion and a deep-seated fire. Landfill fires are very complex and require a lot of time and resources to extinguish. Not to mention the highly toxic compounds released during combustion that we would all be exposed to,” Maggard added.
Other residents continue to worry about water pollution. They point to documents dated December 2013 in which Big Run officials self reported exceeding environmental standards for vinyl chloride and benzene in ground and surface water run off. Although the landfill submitted corrective action plans to state regulators to address the problem, residents are skeptical the issues are isolated or have been corrected properly.
Old mine shafts that crisscross land slated for development of future landfill cells are another frequently discussed topic of concern among residents. Still others want to know what caused a 2013 landslide involving eight acres and an estimated 800,000 tons of trash. They want to know what is being done to prevent another slide.
For some, the time for questions and answers is over.
“I think we have to get it stopped,” said prominent local businessman Tom Wolf on Monday. He is preparing to take legal action against Big Run, explaining he “got tired of calling,” to complain. “A prominent Ashland attorney,” he said, has agreed to take up the case.
“These people (landfill officials) aren’t going to do anything unless you get a lawsuit started. I’m going to get it started,” he said. His announcement was greeted by thunderous applause and pledges from others to join him.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH is a freelance journalist based in Ashland, Ky. Contact her at CarrieStambaugh@gmail.com or visit CarrieStambaugh.com.