Gas removal ceased temporarily at landfill

Temporary shutdown was for maintenance

Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2014 9:11 am

ROXBURY TWP. – The hydrogen sulfide gas burning system at the former Fenimore landfill was down for maintenance for four days last week, prompting concerns about the return of noxious hydrogen sulfide odors.

Monday, however, Township Manager Christopher Raths reported no complaints, and said the township’s air quality monitors did not register any significant increases.

“It was very good news,” he said, referring to the lack of odor-related issues over the weekend.

At the Township Council meeting on Tuesday, June 10, Raths said that the township was only informed that day that the oxidizer and scrubber system, which extracts the gas from the ground on the former landfill site and burns it off, was to be shut down.

Shutdown dates were to include Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Raths said township staff was at the ready, in the event odors did reach high levels, and the respite center should have to be opened at Horseshoe Lake.

“Staff will be available over the next several days in case we have to open it. We aren’t happy about this at all. The DEP (state Department of Environmental Protection) did not contact us. They made the decision, and we were only informed today,” Raths said Tuesday night.

In an e-mailed response to resident Bill Morrocco from Kerry Pflugh of the DEP, the state spelled out the reasons for the shutdown.

“We appreciate your concerns regarding the temporary shutdown and repair of the gas collection and treatment system at Fenimore,” she wrote.

“DEP must perform preventive maintenance of the gas collection and treatment system in order to help avoid any shutdown during the summer months. This maintenance will help ensure the most efficient and consistent operation of the gas collection and treatment system to control the hydrogen sulfide and therefore limit any odors.

“The oxidizer is not broken. The hydrogen sulfide gas and the sulfur oxides that are formed during the oxidation process are compounds that can damage the machinery and materials. The maintenance work includes replacing worn pieces of the duct system. The new duct material is constructed of “Hastelloy C- 276”, a nickel-molybdenum-chromium wrought alloy that is more durable than the current duct material,” she said.

“In reference to safety protocols, the Green Light Monitoring System is still being used for the action levels established by the town. Likewise, the safety protocols established by the township schools remain in place. DEP does not expect the gas levels during this relatively brief shutdown to approach those of last summer, when no gas controls were in place,” she said.

She also addressed why this week, in particular, was favorable for the temporary shutdown.

“As for weather, the barometric pressure has risen and the current forecast is providing the necessary conditions to do the maintenance. While we have scheduled four days, we are hopeful that the work will be completed in less time,” she said.

In his letter, however, Morrocco said that the state was providing insufficient notice to the township and its residents.

“Last night the township stated that the DEP instructed them to send out an alert only to those that have signed up for the town notification system.  I understand that this system only has about 500 subscribers,” he wrote.

“Roxbury has approximately 9,000 households, including over 900 school children that live a mile from the site.  Most of these residents have not been notified by the DEP regarding the shutdown or the potential increase in toxic emissions that may occur.  It is completely unacceptable that the DEP has not notified all the residents that have the potential to be affected by the four day shutdown, especially since, during the shutdown, the system will be inoperable no matter how high the emissions are,” Morrocco wrote.

“The DEP claims this shutdown is for “scheduled maintenance,” however the township was given less than 24 hours notice to prepare staffing of the respite center and notify schools.  Why wasn’t more advance notice given to the township?  The township indicated last night that the DEP knew about this repair for some time.  Why wasn’t this repair performed during cooler weather conditions that would yield a lower emissions potential?” he asked.

Several council members also questioned the DEP’s plans Tuesday night.

“Didn’t they know this maintenance was coming?” Mayor Jim Rilee asked.

“This had to have been planned for a while,” he said.

The township’s consulting engineer, Robert Zelley, said he found out about the DEP’s plans at 5 p.m. Tuesday evening.

“They did have it planned, but they were looking at the weather. They were waiting for a high pressure system, which we have this week,” he said.

A high pressure system, he said, will inhibit gas from leaving the site.

“They are putting in higher quality pieces of equipment. Several pieces of the oxidizer will be brand new, and they took time to fabricate,” he said.

“They (the DEP) should have alerted the township. This is definitely needed work. The steel they have there now is inferior. This will do a better job, and it is best to do this with a high pressure weather system. This is being done to avoid future breakdowns,” he said.

In anticipation of the shutdown, Zelley said DEP staff on the site have been removing one to two tons of hydrogen sulfide gas per day from the landfill.

“I know they have been trying to get as much out as possible over the course of the last few days before it was shut down for maintenance,” he said.

In the meantime, Raths said at Tuesday’s meeting that the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has sent postcards to some 2,000 residents, and is seeking residents’ input for four or five upcoming sessions with them.

“They are only looking for testimony about the health effects of the landfill from nine residents per session. It is very limited. They don’t need a large volume of people. They just need to assess the conditions,” Raths said.

Council Praised

Resident Dennis Wine, who attends nearly every council meeting, offered the council a rare moment of praise for its handling of the Fenimore matter for nearly the past three years.

“I was here the night the council first became aware of this fiasco. I understand that you have no control over it,” he said. “I am not directly impacted by this, but I empathize with those who are. This whole thing was a surprise from day one. All of a sudden, truck were rolling,” he said.

“You (the township) filed a suit to get it shut down. The judge overruled you. You have installed monitors. You got the legislature to act on this matter. I don’t hold you responsible. I think you have done a marvelous job and I appreciate the work you have done,” he said.

“It’s hard for me to think of what more you could have done,” he said.

Resident Bob Mederos said he has seen clouds over the Mooney Mountain site, and questioned the possibility that the landfill was on fire.

“There is steam coming up. Has anybody tested the temperature at the site,” he asked.

Zelley said the DEP has, and temperature readings indicate the landfill is between 120 and 130 degrees. That is not hot enough for fires, he said.

Resident Sylvia Galloppo asked the council whether or not they still consider Roxbury to be one of the best communities for young people, as it was named in 2011.

Rilee said he does.

“I think we have an issue that we are all very concerned about, but Roxbury is still a great community,” he said.

“We are in a very difficult situation that none of us asked for, and that none of us wanted, but I havent’ given up on this town. I love Roxbury,” he said.

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