Hammered with Parent Calls, Roxbury School Chief Sends Odor Alert
Monday, March 9, 2015 at 10:11 PM
ROXBURY, NJ – Roxbury Schools Superintendent Patrick Tierney might not have precisely followed protocol Monday when facing the district’s first hydrogen sulfide “red alert,” but Tierney said he activated the district’s emergency alert system because he was being swamped with phone calls from parents.
Tierney directed Jefferson Elementary School Principal Karen Lunardoni to advise parents that air monitors had recorded high levels of the putrid gas being generated at the former Fenimore Landfill. The warning, issued over the district’s “Honeywell” alert system, said the monitoring system “triggered a red alert,” and added the school district “requested hand held readings per protocol.” It also said, “We will advice (sic) you of any developments.”
According to a source, at least one parent came to the school after receiving the alert and took a child home.
However, there was no release of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) from the landfill, said state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Spokeswoman Kerry Kirk Pflugh and she said there wasn’t a need to activate the Honeywell system.
“It turns out there was an alert that went out,” said Pflugh. “There was a spike (on an H2S monitor), but it turned out to be a false alarm. Apparently the school … didn’t follow the correct protocol.” Pflugh said parents should not have been alerted until the veracity of the monitor reading was investigated; something she said took place quickly and revealed no problem.
She said representatives of Emilcott Associates, the vendor that supplied the air monitors, were at the landfill at the time of the spikes recorded by the monitor near Jefferson School. “They did investigate it, using hand-held monitors,” she said. “Apparently, it was an instrumentation issue (with the stationary monitor). The chief of police went searching for the odor and there was no odor.”
Tierney said he directed Lunardoni to activate the Honeywell alert because people were bombarding him with phone calls and he could not answer all of them. “The protocol is that, based on what the health department has given to us, if it (the H2S level) is over 10 parts per billion, it’s a yellow alert,” he said. “If it’s over 20 it’s a red alert.”
Tierney said there was “an anomaly” with a monitor, showing significantly higher levels of H2S than those warranting a red alert. “We’ve never gotten to the point where it was a red alert,” he pointed out, adding that he normally just sends an email to Emilcott, requesting it come and test with hand-held units, when the monitors point to elevated gas levels.
“Unfortunately, there are a number of parents at Jefferson School who monitor the system like I do,” said the superintendent. “I was getting inundated with phone calls, so I authorized the principal to send the Honeywell alert to parents … I didn’t want to have to deal with 35 different phone calls from concerned and upset moms. It was easier to just send out the Honeywell.”
Although residents of the area continue to say they sporadically smell the rotten egg odor of H2S, Pflugh said the gas would only be released to the air if there is a problem with the oxidizer at the landfill, equipment that is burning off the gas now trapped beneath a DEP-installed cover atop the material causing the H2S.
“The landfill is capped, so there are no odors coming from it,” she said. “The only way that could happen is if a valve is left open or something … People don’t realize that once a landfill is capped it basically envelops the materials and the only opportunity for odor is if there is some problem with the oxidizer. We have had a release when that happened.”
Tierney said the school did not tell any parents to come and remove their children. “I can’t, nor did we, say ‘Come get your child,’” he said.
Roxbury Manager Christopher Raths concurred with Pflugh’s assessment that there did not appear to be a gas leak. “As per protocol, given the nature of the reading, the monitoring company has verified via hand-held monitors, that this is an uncharacteristic reading and not a release,” said Raths in an email. “The police also went to the site and reported no odors.”
Raths would not comment about the school’s handling of the matter.
Emilcott Associates President Bruce Groves said there, indeed, was a spike recorded on a monitor as well as some more consistent elevated readings. But he said these higher-than-normal readings – “consistently in the low teens” in terms of parts per billion of H2S – were also noticed last winter and might be the highly sensitive monitors reacting to airborne material other than H2S, such as gases coming from furnaces.
As for the spikes, one of which reached 1,200 ppb, Groves said he did not know the cause but he suspected it could have been something as simple as voltage fluctuation. This monitor is plugged into somebody’s house, as I recall,” said Groves. “We are borrowing their AC power. We rely on power that may or may not always be pure power.”