Residents skeptical as landfill operators promise odor improvements by summer

By: Michael Campbell News Editor

PRINCE GEORGE – The spring-like weather that has paid a welcome visit to the Prince George area over the past few weeks has been spoiled for some county residents, who are unable to enjoy the pleasant conditions due to pungent odors coming from the Sussex landfill several miles away.

Some speaking during last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting said they are unable to get relief inside their homes as the odor penetrates the walls of their homes and they made their voices heard to county leaders and representatives from both Waste Management and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

“It was a warm, beautiful week last week and the stink was so strong, my wife retched,” described one resident. “She physically vomited. Something has to be done.”

Disputanta resident Warren Clements told supervisors he believes this ongoing stench from beyond Prince George’s borders is having more impacts than the county can see or smell.

“This is a health issue,” he said. “I am never sick, but this stuff burns your throat and nasal passages. This has put a black eye on this county. I know you want to attract businesses here but, if they hear about all the complaints from this, it’s going to be a tough sell.”

Listening to all of the remarks from residents was Atlantic Waste Disposal’s Senior District Manager Jason Williams, who explained why the smell continues to radiate across the county, which residents say is making life miserable both inside and outside of their homes.

During last week’s meeting, Williams explained that there continues to be a reaction within the landfill that is creating the strong odor, producing by-products similar to “what is inside your stomach.” He continued by saying that efforts to mitigate the smell have been underway since 2015, when the company purchased two portable, waterless deodorizer system, spending much of that year and 2016 installing a series of temporary and synthetic caps across 60 acres of the landfill and expanding their gas collection system, totally nearly 400 devices.

Williams added that they have determined where a majority of the odors are coming from, an approximately 38-acre portion of the landfill site, stressing that they are “attacking that area first.” As part of that effort, they are working to have a portion that problem area complete with capping to mitigate the odor by May 30, with the remainder of the capping being done by June 30.

The Waste Management representative told supervisors and onlookers that the recent uptick in smell can be tied to their mitigation efforts, as they work to put the capping down and install gas collection wells, remarking that crews are “digging into 70 to 80 feet of trash.”

“We expect to see a decrease in smell and it will get better,” he told frustrated homeowners. “When we finish this small section, it will get better through every phase of the project.”

That small section Williams was referring is an eight-acre section of the Waverly landfill that has been identified as a specific odor producer and they told county and state representatives in Richmond during a meeting that the section would be dealt with by April 30.

While Williams confirmed that they understand there is an ongoing reaction in the landfill that is causing the continuous generation of leachate, which is liquid material generated by the landfill mass, and persistent odor problems, no mention was made as to what is causing the reaction, something frustrated residents wanted an answer to during last week’s meeting.

“Waste Management is a publically traded company, but they can’t find enough money to find people to fix this problem,” questioned resident Jennifer Carden. “Waste Management doesn’t know, DEQ doesn’t know, Prince George doesn’t know. This is affecting our homes and coming in through the walls and our resale values are being impacted.”

In terms of the air quality, a Virginia DEQ representative told residents that they have not done air monitoring, noting that Waste Management has done their own and hasn’t found elevated levels of chemicals, but state officials “understand that these odors can cause acute issues” and they have discussed it with the Virginia Department of Health. Further, that representative said even though WM has done their own testing, it doesn’t mean what is in the air isn’t an irritant that can affect people.

Both Waste Management and Virginia DEQ confirmed that the state agency has increased its presence at the landfill, visiting the site “at least twice a month” and receiving comprehensive reports from the facility on odor mitigation efforts, as well. Additionally, past compliance issues have been addressed by facility operators.

Supervisor Alan Carmichael was straight to the point in his response to Williams and Waste Management officials following the company’s presentation.

“I am not sorry at all that you had to hear those complaints because I hear them every day,” he said, pressing Williams for a “comfortable date” for the odor issues to be fixed once and for all.

“June 30,” Williams simply responded.

Board Chairman Bill Robertson reiterated that there is little action the county can take against the landfill because it operates on a state permit, but stressed that action needs to be taken once and for all to improve the quality of life of those affected Prince George residents.

“Our citizens feel their property values are going down. If I had a house there, no one would buy it,” he said. “When you can’t go outside to enjoy your own home, enough is enough. We want this fixed.”

Williams added that they expect to continue to work “proactively” to make sure further cells are not affected by the ongoing reaction inside the landfill last and keep capping areas to stay ahead of odors.

When asked by Carmichael who frustrated residents should call if they smell the noxious fumes radiating from the landfill beyond the April 30 and June 30 deadlines mentioned by Williams, the senior district manager said they should call him at (804)-591-4757 or (804)-814-5586 and via e-mail at jlwillia@wm.com.

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