Landfill Odors Blamed on Shale, But Story Is More Complex

Dead fish, dead bodies, and sulfur are just a few words residents living near a German Township landfill are using to describe the smells they claim are being caused by Marcellus Shale waste.  CBS Pittsburgh covered the story and highlighted the concerns of these residents, but couldn’t offer any proof that Marcellus waste is, in fact, the cause of the odor.

A quick aside: Growing up in Rockland County, N.Y., I can remember these same types of smells coming from the landfill near me. The stench of sulfur and rotten eggs often filled the air near my home, and that was with no natural gas development waste entering the landfill.

EID contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) to get its take, something that was apparently too difficult for the local CBS affiliate. DEP spokesperson John Poister had this to say about the landfill complaints:

“While the Advanced Disposal in German Township does accept drill cuttings from Marcellus wells we don’t know if that’s the source of the smell.  It could be something as small as deteriorating trash that’s escaping the wells used to capture odors.”

Further research into scents emanating from landfills that have never accepted Marcellus waste appear to support Poister’s statement.

Here are some complaints from residents near landfills around the country, notably in places with no shale development.

Newburyport, Massachusetts

“The smell — similar to rotten eggs — emerges around 8 a.m. and then later in the evening for a couple of hours until the winds change direction, said Wildwood Drive resident Ron Klodenski yesterday.”

Providence, Rhode Island

“As a result, large quantities of the gases, including hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs, escaped into the atmosphere and prompted complaints from residents.”

Winnebago, Illinois

“The odor was caused by construction debris that included shredded wood and drywall, according to the company. The material releases hydrogen sulfide when it decomposes, which smells like rotten eggs.”

Many other landfills do take drill cuttings identical to the ones accepted at Advanced Disposal.  However, residents living near these landfills have not complained about any smells caused by Marcellus waste.

According to Poister, PADEP has sent a mobile lab out the site, which will be there for the remainder of today and tomorrow taking air samples.  Results should be expected within two weeks.

In the meantime, it would probably behoove all of us not to jump to conclusions.

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