State Addressing Landfill Odor Complaints

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

JOHNSTON, R.I. — Excessive rain and a reduced volume of trash are being blamed for strong odors that have triggered a rash of complaints from Central Landfill neighbors.

So far this month, the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), the agency running the state landfill, has received 83 complaints about noxious methane fumes. Typically, it receives about two a month, according RIRRC director Michael O'Connell.

The "active face" of the 100-foot trash pile, O'Connell said, is getting about half the amount of trash from four years ago, so there is less material to cover the older, exposed and decaying waste.

O'Connell also said heavy rainfall each of the past two years has flooded the system of pipes in the trash mound. The pipes typically vacuum the methane to a nearby power plant. But the water has slowed the system, allowing the methane to release into the air.

About 90 percent of the complaints have come from residents in Cranston and Johnston, some from as far as 5 miles from the landfill.

On Nov. 10, letters went out to all residents in both communities explaining that the problem would be resolved within 30 days. The plan, O'Connell said, is to apply a foot of topsoil to the entire active landfill.

"It's clearly an issue and we're addressing it, and we hope to get it resolved and go back to being good neighbors for our residents," he said.

He described the odors as a nuisance, possible causing some watering of the eyes, but insisted that there are no health concerns.

The state Department of Health and Department of Environmental Management plan to monitor the odors twice a week through December to be sure the corrective action is successful.

“Hydrogen sulfide fumes can cause nausea, itchy eyes, breathing difficulties, or throat irritations," said state Director of Health Dr. Michael Fine. “It is a good idea to check in on elderly family, friends or neighbors. It is predicted that these odors may last for a couple of weeks.”