Following the September announcement of a consent order over the Brookhaven landfill, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation presented their plans to regulate the landfill last Thursday.
The consent order includes new mitigation measures for the town to address odor issues, as well as a suspended penalty if they don’t comply. A consent order, according to a DEC spokeswoman, is an agreement between the agency and another entity (in this case Brookhaven Town) to address a concern. The terms are often negotiated and agreed upon, then laid out in an action plan. In this case, the town will need to provide the DEC with plans on how to achieve the goals outlined in the order.
The order is the result of a two-week period in 2018, when poor weather and the landfill-capping project resulted in bad odors for the communities surrounding the facility. But this is not a random event, according to DEC data going back to 2015. Odor calls tend to spike around the first quarter of each year, with an all-time-high 269 calls in the first quarter this year. That compares to just nine calls in the third quarter of 2018.
History shows that the capping process mixed with wet and cold weather is often the culprit of the bad odors. The DEC said the process was delayed in 2018 due to an “extremely wet season,” which delayed connecting extraction wells, causing gas emissions. Similarly, the last time odors spiked in 2015, the town was preparing for a capping project. A staff member said the DEC would work with the town to adjust the capping process to be more efficient in the future.
The “rotten egg” smell reported by so many residents is hydrogen sulfide, a colorless gas. According to the DEC, most of its sources are natural, as it is created when bacteria break down plant and animal material, often in stagnant waters with low oxygen. It is also released by volcanoes and hot springs. In an industrial setting, hydrogen sulfide can be created by waste disposal, particularly drywall. Bacteria change its contents, calcium sulfate, into hydrogen sulfide. The Brookhaven landfill currently takes only construction debris and ash.
The DEC monitored the odors at the peak of the December 2018 issues, but determined it was not above the legal limit of 10 parts per billion averaged over an hour’s time. They continue to analyze the data every two weeks of emissions from the landfill. The town will be the day-to-day monitor of odor and other issues.
Landfill terms to know
Hydrogen sulfide gas: A colorless gas having a characteristic, disagreeable odor often described as that of rotten eggs.
Cap system: A multilayer cover system of pipes, soil and impervious membranes placed over the landfilled waste and designed mainly to preclude precipitation from infiltrating the waste mass and collect gas generated to prevent its uncontrolled release.
Landfill gas: A mixture of gases generated as landfilled waste decomposes.
Gas extraction well: Perforated well placed in the waste mass to extract gas generated by the decomposing waste.
Gas flares: Equipment used to combust and control landfill gas emissions.
Landfill leachate: Liquid, including any suspended components, that has come in contact with waste.