Existence of odors from dump is hotly debated

ROXBURY TWP. — Are hydrogen sulfide odors from the now-capped Fenimore landfill on Mooney Mountain still a regular event?

And are the odors a serious health detriment?

It depends on who you ask.

The all-volunteer Roxbury Environmental Action Coalition (R.E.A.C.T.) said in a statement issued Feb. 5 that not only do the “rotten egg” odors continue to emanate from the former landfill, but that “air pollution is worsening in Roxbury Township and may impact sports and school recesses.”

State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spokesman Larry Ragonese continues, however, to  say that there have been no odor spikes whatsoever, and that, in fact, the odors are essentially a non-issue on the Mooney Mountain site, where DEP officials are staffed around the clock.

R.E.A.C.T. maintains, however, that during recent weeks, many of the monitors designed to detect and monitor toxic hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas emanating from the Fenimore Landfill site had sustained background readings between 8 and 14 ppb (parts per billion)

“According to their own Environmental Action Plan, Roxbury Township should issue a yellow advisory (Level 1 warning) if ball field monitors register 10 ppb of H2S gas. Under a yellow advisory, no new games can start on an impacted ball field,” the R.E.A.C.T. statement said.

“If H2S levels reach 12-15 ppb, the township should issue a red warning (Level 2) and the impacted ball fields should be closed.

“Alerts are also designed to trigger protective measures at Roxbury Township schools. A yellow warning (10 ppb) should trigger onsite response and monitoring of any impacted schools. If onsite monitoring reveals levels of H2S at 20 ppb or greater, all outside activities should be cancelled and all children should be kept inside. Over the past few weeks, there have been multiple occurrences of yellow warnings,” R.E.A.C.T. states.

Air pollution criteria, including levels and alerts, were established by the Roxbury Department of Health in association with Rutgers University Environmental Toxicologists; a representative from the state Department of Health, Division of Environmental and Occupational Standards; and a representative from the supplier of the H2S monitors.

New Jersey currently has no standards for hydrogen sulfide gas.

R.E.A.C.T. President Bob Schultz said, however, that federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards are being routinely exceeded.

“I never thought I would see the day when children in a rural township are dependent on air quality monitors to determine if it’s safe to play outside,” said Schultz.

“Everyday chronic exposures in Roxbury are approaching levels of concern and greatly exceeding the EPA published typical background levels of 0.1 to 0.3 ppb,” he said.

“Roxbury never had this problem before the DEP decided to reopen the otherwise closed and dormant Fenimore Landfill. Now, if background levels don’t improve, the upcoming youth sports season could be impacted.”

Brenda Parr, a R.E.A.C.T. member, wonders what is really coming out of the smoke stack on the site that the DEP claims is solving the problem by sucking and burning off the gas.

“No matter what the DEP says about toxic gas levels, it’s all speculation until a valid stack test is performed, and that’s something the DEP has refused to do and continues to refuse to do.”

Shannon Caccavella, R.E.A.C.T. treasurer, who lives adjacent to the site said, “Over the past few years, my family and I have been living a nightmare with H2S emissions. On Friday morning, Jan. 30, the H2S was strong outside my home at 6 a.m. My breath was taken away with the stench of rotten eggs, and all I could think about was my children waiting for the bus in my driveway while H2S filled their bodies,” she said.

“We’ve seen improvement since the DEP took over the site, but in my opinion, that’s not good enough. Clean air is a right everyone has at their homes, and my family is still routinely exposed to the toxic gas,” she said.

Thursday, Ragonese said, however, that the problem simply does not exist.

“The situation at Fenimore is under control. The cap is in place and the oxidizer is working properly,” he said.

“There has been no exceeding of state or federal standards. Also, there have been no H2S levels, even below acceptable guidelines, that should have triggered odors. We continue to provide constant monitoring and continue to work hand in hand with the township on all issues related to Fenimore,” he said.

Roxbury Township Manager Christopher Raths  said the township has received one recent odor-related complaint.

“I got a text at about 8:30 p.m. last Tuesday night. Some of the monitors have shown 9, 10 and 11 ppb levels, and when it gets to 10, you can smell it, but it has been infrequent. It’s nothing like it was last year or the year before,” Raths said.

Closing recreational fields, he said, is not a relevant issue this time of year.

“We have guidelines in place for Emman’s Road field usage. At this time, however, due to the weather at this time of year, no events are scheduled at the facility,” he said.

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