Fenimore gas reading prompts ‘red alert’ to parents

Township, school district and state authorities said Tuesday that a gas-emission spike recorded by monitors near Jefferson School — resulting in the district issuing a “red alert” to the public — were the result of an anomalous reading, and followup readings using hand-held monitors indicated no significant emissions occurred.

The alert was issued on the same day that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection began the installation of a new oxidizer to continue burning off the toxic hydrogen sulfide gas still being removed from Fenimore Landfill.

“At 12:50 p.m., there was an anomalous reading at the Jefferson monitor, which is on Magnolia Court, indicating a reading of up to 1,100 parts per billion (of the gas),” Township Manager Christopher Raths said. “As per our township protocol, we had Emilcott (Technologies) go out there, and we sent people out there. Emilcott determined with the hand-held monitors that it was an uncharacteristic spike, and no odors were detected. So in this case there was not a release of anything from the landfill.”

The township’s Level 2 protocol calls for the school district to issue a “red warning” when readings from a hand-held hydrogen sulfide monitor exceed 20 ppb for a 15-minute block.

It was unclear if the initial readings required the school district to issue an alert, but Ameerah Palacios, community-relations director for the district, said Superintendent Patrick Tierney decided to err on the side of caution because believes in “total transparency” with parents.

“Please be advised that Fenimore monitoring system triggered a red alert,” the Honeywell phone message to Jefferson student parents said. “The school district has requested hand-held readings per protocol. We will advise you of any developments.”

Palacios said the district followed up with DEP and were told there were no odors detected on-site, and the spike was attributed to a “glitch” in the system.

At least one Jefferson parent said she was happy that Tierney issued the alert.

“I absolutely believe Dr. Tierney made the right call and did what he had to do,” said Michelle Marques Oliviera, who has two children attending Jefferson. “He needs to let parents know when the levels elevate.”

Living in an elevated section of Mooney Mountain, Oliviera said she does not often smell at home the rotten-egg odor of the gas, which was first detected in late 2012.

As the odor spread and intensified, DEP eventually used new legislation and an emergency order to seize the landfill from its owners and begin remediation efforts. Those efforts included a controversial capping of the landfill that many residents protested, saying the only guaranteed solution was to remove the decaying gypsum Drywall and other materials believed to be the source of the gas.

Oliviera responded to the Honeywell alert by removing her children from school, and says she saw at least one other parent do the same. She also said she does not trust the assurances from DEP that no hazardous conditions exist at the landfill.

“Every time there is an excuse,” she said. “There will always be an excuse, because they do not want to admit what is going on. This is putting our children at risk.”

Oliviera added that although she has received “yellow alerts” in the past, indicating a lower level of emission, “This was the very first time I got the red alert.”

The installation project — which followed installation of an impermeable landfill liner last year — was expected to last about three days, during which the current gas-treatment system has to be shut down. DEP advised the town in a fact sheet last week that it did not expect the installation would result in any off-site odors.

The new oxidizer is expected to draw up to 2,000 cubic feet per minute of gas from the landfill, which DEP says “essentially doubles the gas flow from the collection system.”

The two 500 cfm oxidizers on the landfill will remain connected to the scrubber system so that one or both can be used as a backup.

Phase 3 of the capping project — installation of a long-term gas treatment system to replace the new oxidizer and scrubber system — had been scheduled to begin in the spring.

“Data collected through the summer of 2014 on gas production was insufficient to determine the appropriate long-term treatment technology,” DEP wrote in its March 9 fact sheet. “Additional data will be collected through the spring, now that the liner and the new oxidizer are installed. The oxidizer and scrubber systems will remain operational until an alternate remedy can be implemented.”

Staff Writer William Westhoven: 973-428-6627; wwesthoven@dailyrecord.com.


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