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Out of smell, out of mind

Complaints drop off after new landfill odor system installed in Lemon Creek

Posted: Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lemon Creek may finally be rid of the sulfurous smell of rotten eggs that has intermittently drifted away from the city's landfill.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Complaints have fallen from sometimes five to 10 a week down to a total of two calls since the new odor control system was turned on in mid-March, landfill manager Eric Vance said. And those two calls may not have even been related to landfill odors, he added.

"Basically, the proof is in the pudding. Once people stopped calling them, (state regulators) were happy," Vance said.

Landfill gases that become a nuisance violate state law. Solid waste regulators with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation can revoke landfill operators' permits for such offenses, though it would be a last resort here because there are no other landfills in Juneau. Waste Management, based in Houston, Texas, runs the 34-acre landfill at 5600 Tonsgard Court.

The company made a business decision to shut down its aging incinerators in 2004 amid toughening environmental controls. The volume of trash bound for burial shot up, as did the number of complaints about wayward odors.

In January, Waste Management engineers announced the new system was in the works and surmised that the wet environment was to blame for the relatively small landfill's unusually high emissions, since water facilitates decomposition.

The first stab at controlling the smell was a system of 11 wells drilled into the landfill that created pockets for methane and other trace gases to collect underground and passively emanate to the surface, where ignitors were supposed to burn them clean and odorlessly away. By October 2008, Vance had doubled the number of wells to 22, but complaints about the smell continued.

The latest tool to combat the stink is a system that actively and continually sucks the gases out of the ground and concentrates their egress to the fount for burning. Tuesday afternoon, a readout on the device said it was burning 117.6 standard cubic feet per minute at a temperature of 1,097 degrees Fahrenheit. The system in place now is temporary until a permanent, more reliable system with built-in redundancies is installed in September.

The suction on each well can be tuned to pull just the right potency of gases to burn at maximum efficiency. The blue flare where the gases burn is visible at night, stretching several feet from the fount. Vance said he noticed a difference within two days of turning the system on.

Daniel Brown has been a neighbor to the landfill in the Creekside Park subdivision since 1990. In early March before the new system was running, Brown said the smell was really bad when the wind blew his way. He said in past summers the odor made the neighborhood more attractive to bears.

"They run up and down the neighborhood like they pay taxes," he said.

Brown said he has no complaints of late.

The cost of putting the system in place may be passed on to customers through an environmental fee, though Vance said the numbers haven't been crunched yet to estimate what the fee may be. By the time the permanent system is installed, the price tag on all the anti-smell efforts may be close to $400,000, he said.

"So now people can drive and drink their coffee and think of other things than, 'Man, that place stinks,'" Vance said.

• Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail jeremy.hsieh@juneauempire.com.



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