A new system to combat bad odors escaping Juneau's only landfill should be up and running in eight to 10 weeks, officials with Waste Management announced Tuesday during a public workshop the company held at Centennial Hall.
A vacuum system powered by a generator is en route to Juneau that should dramatically improve the effectiveness of the system already in place to deal with the gases.
Since 2004, a system of 11 wells drilled into the landfill at 5600 Tonsgard Court have concentrated methane and other trace gases underground and fed them to the surface, where they are supposed to burn clean and odorlessly away.
Landfill manager Eric Vance finished doubling the number of wells in October to 22, though complaints about the smell continued. The new system will actively suck gases out of the ground instead of letting them passively emanate out.
Doug Buteyn, a solid waste regulator with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said the landfill gases are a nuisance and violate state law. The department can revoke landfill operators' permits, though that would be a last resort because there wouldn't be a place to put the city's trash.
Buteyn said for now, the department is monitoring Waste Management as it works in earnest to manage the gases and comply with the law.
"Every landfill out there generates gas to some degree. It's not the fact that it generates gas that is a surprise to us. The surprise is that it's generating as much gas as it is at this stage in its life," Buteyn said.
People can detect the trace gases that do escape - likely hydrogen sulfide that produces the smell of rotten eggs and ammonia - at levels as low as a few parts per billion, Buteyn said. They do not pose a health threat at those levels, Buteyn said.
Waste Management engineers said the wet environment may be what's causing the unusually high emissions, because water facilitates decomposition. They assured the audience that the vacuum system has worked in other wet environments.
The new system will cost between $300,000 and $400,000 to install, said Mark Reeves, a Waste Management engineer from Portland.
About 50 people attended the workshop. When the speakers opened up the floor for questions, several people were combative and skeptical of the new system's effectiveness, though a few lauded Vance and the company's efforts to work with the community and respond to complaints.
Meanwhile, city-hired consultants are studying rate schedules for combined curbside trash and recycling service, and options for a new recycling facility to accommodate higher volumes of recyclables.
Maria Gladziszewski, a city employee that specializes in solid waste and recycling, said curbside recycling is expected to double or triple the amount of material diverted from the landfill. The study results are expected in May or June.
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