Monitors show odor spikes, but officials can’t verify smell

By MIKE CONDON Editor | Posted: Friday, March 13, 2015 1:46 pm

ROXBURY TWP. — The presence- or lack thereof- of hydrogen sulfide odors again took center stage at the Township Council meeting Tuesday night, March 10.

A few residents questioned what they consider the township’s inaction in the face of, if proven true, what could be potentially hazardous hydrogen sulfide odors emanating from the former Fenimore landfill on Mooney Mountain.

Resident Carl Panetta angrily addressed the council, prompting a police officer to be called to the council chamber for the third time in the past year.

Early this week, Superintendent of Schools Patrick Tierney sent out a Honeywell Instant Alert blast warning residents in the Jefferson School area that air monitors installed to capture hydrogen sulfide gas readings had spiked to high levels.

The problem, however, according to Township Councilman Bob DeFillippo, is that when the spikes do occur, and the towship sends someone out to verify that the smell is, indeed, even present, it is never detected.

“People from Emilcott (the firm which installed and regulates the air monitors) are there, on the site. Our police chief went up there. Chief (James) Simonetti went up there when the smell was reported at Jefferson School. He couldn’t smell anything,” DeFillippo said in an interview Thursday morning.

“We had a spike on Monday. Dr. Tierney was getting calls, but no one at the school was complaining. No one was smelling anything, and that’s been the problem,” DeFillippo said.

“People on Mooney Mountain say they are still getting the smell. We send someone up there, usually a police officer in the area, and we can’t verify it,” he said.

“If a smell is reported, someone goes out to investigate it. The vast majority of people are not reporting they are still smelling it. Some on the mountain say they do, and we take that very seriously,” DeFillippo said.

“The capping process at the landfill is nearly completed. They are installing a new oxidizer now, this month, which is supposed to eliminate any remaining odor problems. If there are still discharges occurring, this new machine will eliminate that,” he said.

“If people are saying they still smell it, and some are, we take that very seriously. It has to be addressed. That is why we have been sending someone out to verify it.  The problem is that we have not been able to do that,” he said.

“It is very frustrating for people, and for us (the Township Council). We hope that the larger oxidizer will resolve any and all lingering odor problems,” he said.

“Whether it’s 1 or 100 people, we take these concerns seriously. We have followed the advice of the environmental experts we hired. We have protocols in place. We have a plan. We are following what we think is the best advice we can get. It can be unpopular, but we hired an independent consultant, and we have to follow their advice,” he said.

“The landfill is capped. The state DEP is there, every day, 24 hours a day. The equipment is there, and is processing the gas. We understand that people are concerned about health risks, and we take those concerns seriously, but the police department gets there quick,” he said.

“When the call comes in to the town, or through the DEP, we get there fast. Even if we don’t get any calls, we monitor the spikes. The problem is that for the vast majority of the time, we have not had the ability to verify the odors,” he said.

“For the spike at Jefferson School this week, no one at the school complained that they were smelling anything,” he said.

Pure Water?

Resident Bob Mederos said polluted runoff is another concern he does not feel has been addressed.

On the Roxbury Register’s website, Mederos, who frequently attends council meetings to discuss the Fenimore matter, posted the following:

“The greatest point I was trying to bring across to the mayor and council is that they should host a state and scientific organization known as The Raritan Headwaters Association, which has tested the water below the landfill for the past three years,” he said.

“They have concluded that it has the lowest score for pure water in this Morris County area. That means the water is contaminated and is being continuously contaminated from the landfill,” he said.

“The town needs to hear their presentation and argument so that it goes down on record and we could hold the responsible parties liable,” Mederos said.

In a statement issued by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued this month,  the DEP says the new oxidizer is in this month, and said problems should diminish.

“As part of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s long- term plan, a new oxidizer, blower, and crossover duct were recently delivered to the landfill. This new equipment will advance DEP’s efforts to further reduce the hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas being produced in the landfill,” the statement said.

“In order to connect the oxidizer and ductwork, the gas treatment system is scheduled to be shut down over a three- day period during the week of March 9, weather permitting. This new oxidizer is part of Phase 1 of the long-term remedy for the site. Phase 1 also included the installation of 21 additional gas collection wells,” the statement says.

“This new enhanced gas collection system will not only collect and treat the H2S gas, but it also will begin to reduce the moisture in the material and essentially “turn off” the bacteria that are producing the H2S,” The DEP Said.

Could the odors return while the treatment system is off?

“DEP does not expect that there will be any off-site odors during this temporary shutdown, now that the landfill is capped. DEP will make every effort to complete the work as soon as possible.

“The off-site air monitoring system that Roxbury Township has put in place will be closely watched and existing protocols will be followed,” the statement reads.

How much gas is the new oxidizer expected to treat?

“The new oxidizer is expected to draw up to 2,000 CFM (cubic feet per minute) of gas from the SEP material under the cap. This essentially doubles the gas flow from the collection system.”

What will happen to the oxidizers that are presently being used to treat landfill gas?

“The two 500 CFM oxidizers will remain connected to the scrubber system so that one or both of the oxidizers can be operated as backup units whenever needed.”

When will Phase 2 of the long term remedy be completed?

“Phase 2 of the long term remedy , which was the installation of an impermeable liner, has been completed. The liner system was completely installed on the SEP fill material and has been covered with the soil/vegetative layer. The contractor will return in the spring to reseed the cap, if necessary, and to perform any maintenance that may be required,” the DEP stated.

Ongoing Effort

Township Manager Christopher Raths said Friday that he personally responds to most air monitor spikes.

“If it is at a level that sends out a general alert, with what we call an uncharacteristically high reading, we send out personnel to verify the smell,” Raths said.

“If it is in the proximity of the landfill, the DEP staff on site can and does monitor it with hand held monitors, as does Emilcott, which is also called out to check the validity of the reading,” Raths said.

Emilcott, Raths said, contends that the high spikes are an aberration. “Nevertheless, we do monitor all complaints when we get uncharacteristically high readings. We go out to verify. In the past, our experience has been that no odors are detected when we go out there,” he said.

“Residents should call the DEP. They should continue to call us. We will continue to go out and check for odors. Every single spike is investigated,” he said.

“We will continue to act diligently and go out and investigate the complaints the township receives,” Raths said.

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