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April 2007

Neighborhood in Maine informed of elevated gas levels near landfill

A neighborhood of homes in Bath, Maine, were informed by local officials of elevated levels of gases from a nearby landfill. About a dozen homes were notified and told that the levels of hydrogen sulfide in the area were high enough to cause symptoms of nausea and headaches. They were also told measured levels could cause difficulty breathing for some asthmatics.

Visits to the homeowners were taken as a precaution and to keep the residents informed. The City of Bath offered residents in the immediate area alternate lodging if they were experiencing health symptoms. No residents chose to leave their homes. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is assessing the situation, in cooperation with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and City officials.

The municipal landfill in Bath has been a source of odor complaints for some time. The DEP purchased a gas monitor that measures hydrogen sulfide, and installed this unit outside the landfill to record the levels of this gas. The first preliminary data from the monitor was available on February 8, and indicated several spikes in the recorded levels of gas. Monitoring will continue, and the installation of additional gas monitors around the area is being planned by the DEP.

Hydrogen sulfide has an extremely low odor threshold, meaning you can smell the gas at levels at or below 1 part per billion (ppb) that do not pose any immediate or long-term negative health effect. The State of Maine has set an acute ambient air guideline of 30 ppb and the Federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has set an acute minimum risk level of 70 ppb. While hydrogen sulfide levels at the gas monitor were not always detected, the levels ranged between 2 ppb and 90 ppb approximately 30% of the time, with levels above Maine’s acute ambient air guideline approximately 5% of the time.

The City has been working on a gas mitigation system for their landfill and the DEP has been monitoring other issues at the landfill on an on-going basis.

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