JUNE 2009

Pennsylvania DEP confirms landfill odors at school

Odors detected at Wilson Elementary School of the West Allegheny School District in Findlay Township, Allegheny County, are originating from Imperial Landfill, the Department of Environmental Protection has confirmed.

Download the results and final reports HERE.

DEP analyzed recent sampling conducted by its mobile analytical laboratory and continues to coordinate efforts with the Allegheny County Health Department, which conducted its own sampling inside and outside Wilson School in March.

The county’s lab analysis measured for six Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, including benzene, all of which were found to be below the detection limits. Based on these results, county officials concluded that the compounds were at levels below which one would expect to see adverse health effects in adults and children using the facility.

As a precautionary measure, the county conducted eight-hour sets of charcoal tube air samples to monitor the school environment for VOCs, including benzene, for two weeks in April.

The county health department installed continuous monitoring equipment at Wilson School April 17 to measure hydrogen sulfide, which is an indicator of landfill gas. Currently, the data is manually collected. After the school district provides a dedicated communications link, the county will electronically download the data. In May, the county will begin spot-check monitoring for methane.

To counter the odors, the school district installed air filters March 16 in the school’s heating, ventilating and air conditioning unit.

Lab analysis of samples that were collected by DEP on March 17 and 18 outside the school showed that compounds associated with the decomposition of waste were detected at several monitoring points within the landfill and were also present at Wilson School.

It is important to note that instantaneous measurements are not indicative of long-term, continuous exposure. The samples were taken for only three days, which is insufficient for complete air quality monitoring. The purpose of the testing was to determine the source of the gases and odor-causing compounds; consequently, DEP is unable to conclusively determine health risks. Data resulting from ongoing monitoring by the county will be evaluated to assess potential health and/or safety risks.

The highest reading during DEP’s sampling was for methane, a gas commonly associated with landfills, at 41,768 parts per billion (ppb) - or, 41.8 parts per million (ppm) - the morning of March 17. Since that morning was foggy, the resulting atmospheric conditions would have contained any gases released into the air and would cause these higher readings. Methane at this level does not present a health and/or safety risk.

“While monitoring continues at the school, it is essential that the problem be solved at the source,” DEP southwest Regional Director Ken Bowman said. “Therefore, DEP and the county health department are requiring Republic Services Inc. to take the necessary measures to control the gases emitted from the landfill.”

DEP and the county are currently negotiating a Consent Order and Agreement with the landfill’s owner, Republic Services Inc., which will specify corrective actions and set penalties for past and future violations.

In addition to the mobile lab analysis, “grab” samples were collected at 11 locations in and near the landfill as well as at Wilson Elementary School. These samples tentatively identified VOCs and other compounds common to landfills.