On some days, odor from the Stony Hollow Landfill drifts as far as downtown Dayton, through parts of Kettering, Miamisburg, Oakwood and West Carrollton.
It is most acute in the area immediately around the 169-acre landfill off Gettysburg Avenue in Dayton, resulting in a federal class action lawsuit and a lot of anger from homeowners in Jefferson Twp., Moraine and West Dayton.
“We’ve had some bad odors and I’ve lived around here for 30 years,” said Ray Gibson, whose mobile home is in the Villages at Stony Hollow southeast of the landfill. “This is the worst smell we’ve ever had … it makes you sick to your stomach.”
Added Rhonda Thaman, who also lives close to the landfill: “It’s like walking right into a wall – a wall of stink. And that’s putting it nice.”
That “wall of stink” has pitted neighborhoods of working class residents against the nation’s largest solid waste company, Waste Management, which owns the landfill and says it has been working to ameliorate the intermittently strong odors for more than eight months.
But troubles at Stony Hollow only worsened this year after discharges from the landfill resulted in overflows of Dayton’s sewer system. Last month, 13 employees cleaning out a main became ill and sought medical treatment.
Days later, the city ordered Waste Management to stop putting effluent into the system.
Though recent testing shows air quality within allowable limits, at least 160 nearby property owners are poised to join in the federal lawsuit against Waste Management while the Montgomery County Waste Advisory Committee is threatening to stop sending refuse to Stony Hollow altogether unless the odors can be reined in.
“We cannot ignore these concerns,” said Dick Church, who chaired a Nov. 16 meeting of the committee and is Miamisburg’s mayor. “It is clear that Waste Management has broken the public’s trust.”
Waste Management executives told committee members the company “literally went back to the drawing board” after attempts to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations for operating various wells released more odorous gas.
The wells are used to collect gases generated through the decomposition of waste. When trenches were dug to install new wells and leachate lines, large areas of degrading trash became exposed, said Frank Fello, the company’s area director of operations for recycling and disposal. The company has struggled to control the stench because of higher-than-normal subsurface temperatures in an inactive area of the landfill, he said.
“We are committing a lot of resources to get this done as fast as we possibly can going forward,” Fello told the group. “Waste Management is very, very committed to the health and safety of both our employees and the surrounding communities.”
Since late April, the city of Moraine has received more than 300 complaints about odors coming from Stony Hollow. Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County has also fielded concerns and so, too, has Waste Management.
The landfill takes in on average 1,100 tons a day — household waste from Montgomery County comprising about a third of that total.
Bacteria breaking down municipal waste can generate hundreds of gases. Most prominent is methane, accounting for 40-65 percent, and carbon dioxide; both are odorless. But hydrogen sulfide and other sulfur compounds as well as non-methane organic compounds are malodorous in even minute proportions, according to the Ohio EPA.
“The decomposition of the solid waste creates chemical byproducts, some of which have a strong odor,” said Eileen Moran, supervisor for the Regional Air Pollution Control Agency (RAPCA), which contracts with the Ohio EPA to regulate air quality. “This odor can vary in intensity and direction due to weather conditions in the area and activities at the landfill.”
RAPCA has collected 17 ambient air samples from the landfill’s perimeter since June. None of the samples analyzed contained levels of volatile compounds high enough to cause potential health effects, according to an Ohio EPA toxicologist’s report.
But those test results provide little comfort to Gibson, who said he now suffers frequent headaches — once rare occurrences — and worries about his four young grandchildren visiting.
“Well, it can’t be good, anything that makes you sick,” said Gibson, 68. “You can’t sit outside if you feel like puking.”
The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Carly Beck, declined comment. But in the lawsuit she claims damages of more than $5 million, saying the noxious smell has negatively affected the value, use and enjoyment of her home on Wienburg Drive in Moraine.
Thaman, too, fears what is happening to the value of her property.
“I know it’s dropping, said Thaman, 61, who’s lived in Moraine for 31 years along Dorf Drive. “This is a really nice neighborhood up here. But if somebody wants to purchase a home and smells that, do you think they’re going to buy in a neighborhood that smells that bad?”
Waste Management set up a hotline to field complaints, but Thaman and Gibson both expressed frustration about the lack of progress.
“It’s getting worse,” Gibson said.
After fielding complaints from irate residents, solid waste officials last May called a special meeting with Waste Management. It was only then the group learned about the construction that was exposing large areas of degraded trash.
The company apologized, promised to be more responsive to the group 2in the future and said the project would wrap up in eight to 10 weeks, according to minutes from the meeting.
“It is only going to get better from here,” a company representative told the group.
But residents and local leaders say it hasn’t gotten better.
“It’s obvious there’s a problem that’s not being addressed,” David Hicks, Moraine city manager, said. “Some residents are extremely upset to say the very least. Some are beyond upset — angry, hostile, you pick the description … This is a never-ending process.”
While normal waste decomposition creates gases and liquids, the higher than normal subsurface temperatures sped the decomposition and elevated the stench factor. Waste Management officials say operators detected those subsurface temperatures between the spring of 2015 and this past spring.
The construction plans had to be adjusted to control for the higher temperatures, Fello told members of the solid waste committee on Nov. 16.
“These elevated temperatures in the landfill can cause waste to decompose at an accelerated rate — faster than what’s normal — and when it starts to decompose at an accelerated rate it creates an even higher quantity of liquid and gas,” he said. “Accelerated decomposition can result in some of these unique, intermittent odors that a lot of folks have encountered the past several months.”
The phenomenon is rare considering the number of landfills in the United States, said Kathy Trent, Waste Management’s director of public affairs. Of the 247 active landfills the company operates, just one — in Sussex County, Virginia — has experienced similar conditions, she said.
Why the high temperature?
Getting to the root of why and where high subsurface temperatures occur is difficult, said Navid Jafari, a professor and researcher at Louisiana State University’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
“There are definitely multiple reasons why temperatures can increase,” he said. “It could be the operation of the gas wells among other things. It could be a combination of the waste type versus how the landfill is operated and maintained.”
Normal temperatures at Stony Hollow’s wellheads range between 110 and 145 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Waste Management. The recorded temperatures in the problem areas, however, reached as high as 200 degrees, the company said.
To drop the temperature, Waste Management added more wells to the initial construction project, bringing to more than 50 the number of new gas collection wells. The company also expanded the leachate system to collect liquids, which required digging into long-buried waste. In some cases, trenches cut 15 deep and 20 feet wide exposed large swaths of degrading trash.
During June, RAPCA sent the landfill three violation notices: one for high temperatures, a second for excessive odors and a third for leachate outbreaks.
“Unfortunately when we dug into this it created some very unique odors,” Fello said. “For safety reasons we had to open these trenches up a lot wider than we normally would.”
Cease and desist
Last month, it wasn’t just the stench in the air that was impacting the community.
An Oct. 11 sewer overflow along Gettysburg Avenue created “significant odors” due to debris from Stony Hollow that “hardened like concrete” in a sewer line, explained Chris Clark, Dayton’s Division of Water Reclamation manager, in an email sent to officials in Dayton, Moraine and the Ohio EPA. Records show it took six days to clean the blockage.
But the problem persisted and on Oct. 25 city crews fell ill responding to another overflow of raw sewage from the landfill “emitting objectionable odors which were questionably toxic,” according to an overflow report required by the Ohio EPA.
“To get two in the span of a couple of weeks, something else is going on,” said Michael Powell, director of Dayton’s Department of Water. The city typically sees just a handful of sewer overflows annually, he said.
Thirteen employees sought medical care after working to free the blockage along Gettysburg Avenue at Guthrie Road, according to the city. A Dayton spokeswoman would not disclose the severity of illnesses or injuries to the workers.
On Oct. 27, Powell issued Stony Hollow a cease and desist order barring the landfill from discharging effluent into the city’s system. The landfill is one of 45 industrial users that must work with Dayton’s pretreatment program and one of 32 under more stringent federal rules.
Tests identified a culprit of the sewer blockages as struvite, otherwise known as magnesium ammonium phosphate. While struvite blocked the line, it was the compound phenol that probably made the workers sick. A city investigation revealed that Stony Hollow’s discharge contained higher than normal levels of phenol, a petroleum byproduct that can damage a person’s eyes, skin and respiratory tract and cause severe burns to exposed skin.
Powell said a sample taken from the line after the workers fell ill showed the phenol level at 30,500 micrograms per liter. The landfill’s normal leachate discharge contains 100-2,500 micrograms per liter, he said.
How struvite formed in the sewer line continues to be investigated by the city and Waste Management.
In the city’s cease and desist order, Powell says Waste Management used “descaling and defoaming agents” not allowed in its industrial treatment permit with the city. The problems in the lines were caused chemicals used by Stony Hollow and then discharged into the sewer system, according to the city.
Waste Management’s Trent said the company uses a range of products as part of its pretreatment process. “Our intention is to comply with the city discharge requirements,” she said.
Powell said the company is
complying with the cease and desist order and cooperating with the city.
Cleanup costs are expected to run into the tens of thousands of dollars, according to Powell. The city had to hire an independent company with specialized equipment to delicately clean about 3,000 feet of clay sewer main installed between 1955 and 1989.
The city will attempt to recover those costs from Waste Management and the company may yet face a fine, Powell said.
Months of ‘failure’
There is an end in sight, said Matt Neely, Waste Management’s director of disposal operations.
At the Nov. 16 Solid Waste Advisory Committee meeting, Neely said the landfill is currently a “very busy construction area” with six to eight contractors on site. Dozens of workers were on pace to have all the new gas wells installed by the end of last week and an odor control barrier — an impermeable cap — will be placed over 13½ acres of the site in coming weeks. The cap will create a vacuum to better collect gases, he said.
“These measures are designed to help and will mitigate the odors and also contain and reduce the reaction area and decrease the temperatures in the landfill,” Neely said. “We are committed to continue these efforts into the next year if necessary, but we are looking at having this work buttoned up in December and that’s what we have planned.”
But Buzz Portune, Moraine’s law director, wants further steps. Moraine has formally asked the solid waste advisory committee to recommend that the county commission no longer send solid waste to Stony Hollow. Moraine also requested that the Ohio EPA revoke a waiver permitting further vertical expansion of the landfill.
At the Nov. 16 meeting, the committee unanimously approved a motion to “determine alternative options that are economically and environmentally responsible to the citizens of Montgomery County.”
In other words, the county may take its trash elsewhere. Already, 75 percent of household waste collected in the county is trucked to a landfill near Bellefontaine.
“If Stony Hollow continues to process waste in the same fashion it has done in the past, why aren’t we going to be experiencing the same problem down the road?” Portune said during the meeting. “And won’t we all be back here again years from now addressing the same problem and attempting to identify and come up with a solution?”
Unaware of the odors, Amanda and Greg Pekars and their two young sons moved three weeks ago from Cleveland to Moraine’s German Village neighborhood.
Greg said he visited the house just twice — not recalling an odor — before making the purchase. No one mentioned problems at the nearby landfill.
“The first day we were moving in, the right wind was blowing and we got the first whiff,” Greg said.
“We blamed it on the garbage cans and Greg wondered if I had dirty diapers in the car,” Amanda said. “But that wasn’t it.”
“We had about three afternoons and evenings where it was pretty nasty,” Greg said of their first week. “If it gets worse and it’s daily, then we’ve got to figure something out.”
Stony Hollow Landfill odor alert line:
Moraine odor complaint form:
or call 937-535-1031
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