Out-of-state sludge shipments to Moretown landfill raise questions about health effects of expansion proposal

The active portion of the landfill, cell three, is covered with soil every day. Photo by Audrey Clark

The active portion of the landfill, cell three, is covered with soil every day. Photo by Audrey Clark

Once or twice a day, sometimes more often, Scott Baughman’s nose and tongue go numb. For several hours, he can’t smell or taste anything. This is a problem for a man who runs an organic compost business from home, and who relies on his sense of smell to determine the health of his compost. It’s also a problem if he wants to taste his lunch.

The sensation, he says, starts with the smell of sewage wafting from Moretown Landfill, located adjacent to his property. That odor is followed by an artificial fruity smell from the chemical odor neutralizers the landfill uses. Then, Baughman says, the numbness sets in.

The septic smell is from 23,000 tons of sewage sludge shipped to the landfill from Vermont, New York State and two cities in Massachusetts. Sludge made up about a sixth of the material dumped in Moretown last year.

The odor complaints are the latest in a string of health and public safety concerns Baughman and other residents in town have become increasingly worried about since the owner of the landfill, Interstate Waste Services, began pressing state and local officials several years ago for approval of an expansion of the Moretown site.

Interstate Waste Services, a subsidiary of Advanced Disposal, a $1.4 billion a year waste corporation owned by Highstar Holdings, is seeking to add a 20-acre cell and a service road to its existing operation on Route 2 in Moretown.

The project would more than double the footprint of the landfill and cost about $3.4 million to construct.

The project would more than double the footprint of the landfill and cost about $3.4 million to construct. Once the Moretown Landfill expansion has been completed, cell four will be 80 feet higher than the current elevation of the landfill and the additional space will lengthen the life of the dump by 15 to 18 years.

If the state and the town of Moretown do not approve this expansion into what is called “cell four,” operators predict the landfill will be full in two years. The Moretown Landfill is one of only two commercially operated garbage dumps in Vermont. The other, Coventry Landfill, is owned by Rutland-based Casella Waste Management.

The landfill benefits Moretown residents financially. Interstate Waste Services pays a host fee of approximately $525,000 per year to the town on top of the regular property tax rate. As a result, Moretown has one of the lowest tax rates in the area.

Baughman and his wife, Lisa Ransom, are among a small number of residents who are concerned that further expansion will result in more pollution, odor, noise, traffic, and aesthetic problems. They say the truck traffic makes them feel unsafe while driving in their neighborhood; they often can’t go outside because of the odors; and the new cell will be more visible than the existing landfill cells.

Interstate Waste Services has been blasting into the side of Cobb Hill to create gravel to cover the landfill, and an expansion could mean blasting would continue for another 18 years.

Residents’ major public safety concern, besides the noise from the blasting and odors from the sewage sludge and attending chemical neutralizers, is water quality. The Agency of Natural Resources may reclassify the groundwater underneath the landfill from potable (drinkable) to non-potable because heavy metals like arsenic have been found in water samples.

Ransom and Baughman own Grow Compost, an organic compost company based on their homestead. They say landfill activities are interfering with their ability to run an environmentally sustainable business. They are also concerned about the health effects of the odor neutralizers on their three children.

“Are they [Interstate Waste] here to make a profit no matter what the cost to people and the environment?” Ransom asks.

Moretown Landfill

On a typical weekday, trucks and cars come and go constantly from the Moretown Landfill. They rev up the curve past the entrance sign, passing orange metal signs warning about the blasting. Up the hill, the landfill itself, smoothly covered in earth and sparse grass, towers above an office trailer and a set of recycling dumpsters. A school group gathers around a neon-vested worker, who raises his voice to be heard.

The current borrow area, from which earth is blasted for covering the landfill, coincides with a portion of the proposed cell four. Photo by Audrey Clark

The current borrow area, from which earth is blasted for covering the landfill, coincides with a portion of the proposed cell four. Photo by Audrey Clark

According to Tom Badowski, the landfill manager, the company gives 25 public tours a year to inform people about how the system works.

“The industry we’re in is not welcomed in a lot of places, so we really try hard to keep our neighbors happy, we try to keep our local town happy, our employees happy,” he said.

There has been a landfill on this property for at least 30 years. In the beginning, it was unlined. In the early 1990s, the federal government banned the use of unlined landfills. The first lined cell (cell one) was built at Moretown in 1994, followed by cell two in 1999 and cell three in 2005. Because stormwater leached pollutants out of the unlined cell, it was capped in 1993 with earth and in 2006 with high-density plastic.

Interstate Waste now employs 10 workers from central Vermont, three of whom are from Moretown. The landfill takes in 600 tons of waste per day brought in by 30 to 40 trucks per day, ranging in size from dump trucks to 18-wheelers, as well as residential drop-offs. According to the company’s fourth quarter report from 2011, Moretown Landfill took in about 130,000 tons of waste last year, 23,000 tons of which was sewage sludge. Nearly 80 percent of that sludge was from out of state.

Highstar Capital is an international holding company based in New York with investments in solid waste, wastewater and transportation industries. It owns Star Atlantic Holdings, which operates Interstate Waste Services, which in turn owns the Moretown Landfill. Interstate Waste Services is based out of Ramsey, N.J., and operates six landfills and 17 transfer stations from West Virginia to Vermont. In addition to the Moretown Landfill, it operates three transfer stations in Vermont: St. Johnsbury, Waitsfield, and Williston.

Visit the Interstate Waste Services website, however, and it says the company is now called Advanced Disposal. Advanced Disposal, based out of Jacksonville, Fla., is the southern solid waste management arm of Highstar Capital.

According to a July 2012 article on WasteBusinessJournal.com, with the acquisition this summer of Veolia Environnement’s U.S. waste utility, Advanced Disposal is now the largest privately owned waste company in the country. It has holdings in 20 states that provide an annual revenue of $1.4 billion.

An article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette from Sept. 22 reported a strikingly similar situation at a landfill in South Hadley, Mass., also run by Interstate Waste Services: Nearly 90 odor complaints from neighbors, followed by efforts to reduce odors. In this case, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection fined the landfill $4,800 last February and $23,000 more recently.

Moretown residents, the Development Review Board, and landfill officials look out over the proposed area for cell four. Photo by Audrey Clark

Moretown residents, the Development Review Board, and landfill officials look out over the proposed area for cell four. Photo by Audrey Clark

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal agency, fined Interstate Waste Services nearly $80,000 in 2007 for 41 alleged violations of worker safety in three New York facilities.

What residents think

About 25 Moretown and Waterbury residents, some of whom are organizing an advocacy group to oppose the landfill expansion, attended a site visit and public hearing of the Moretown Development Review Board at the Moretown Landfill on Thursday.

Tom Douglass, one of the participants, said people who live near the landfill are concerned, but most Moretown residents aren’t aware of the issue.

Douglass works at Majestic Auto located nearly a mile away from the landfill.

“It’s embarrassing to go out and try to talk to customers, because the smell’s so bad,” he said. He said there have been times he’s gone outside to greet customers and gagged or couldn’t breathe because of the sewage smell.

Once, this made him so angry he drove up to the landfill and yelled at one of the workers about the sewage sludge. Douglass recounted the worker’s response: “I wish they [the landfill owners] wouldn’t take it in.”

During the hearing, one resident said he has a new grandson, but that his son won’t bring the baby to his house because of the smell.

Another complaining about the stench in the mornings, called out to the Development Review Board members, “I’ll cook you breakfast. See if you can eat it.”

Yet another resident said Moretown “used to be a nice place to live.”

Mary Ann Raymond, who lives a third of a mile away from the landfill, said the air either stinks like a sewer or smells like artificial fragrance. The fragrance makes her eyes, throat, and skin burn.

“I am not able to enjoy my property,” she said.

Ron Doyle, who lives half a mile from the landfill on Noyes Road, said when he moved there in 1993, he didn’t really notice the landfill. But with two expansions in the last 15 years, things have gotten a lot worse. He said people have noticed a decline in the abundance of wildlife in the area.

Moretown Development Review Board and landfill officials review site expansion plans. Photo by Audrey Clark

Moretown Development Review Board and landfill officials review site expansion plans. Photo by Audrey Clark

Moretown zoning ordinances prohibit the extraction of “earth resources,” but the landfill has been granted an exemption for blasting that is “incidental” to landfill operations. As part of its host agreement with Moretown, the landfill gives 5,000 cubic yards of gravel to the town every year. During the hearing, some residents questioned whether that material was incidental to landfill operations.

During the site visit, attendees walked along a road directly behind cell three, which is in active use. Wafts of methane, garbage, sewage, and an artificial fragrance like laundry detergent were present, but not strong.

Dave Belanger, another local, said “What you’re smelling right now is probably the best it’s smelled in seven years.” When he repeated this statement at the hearing, many people in the room nodded their heads or called out in agreement.

Lisa Ransom is concerned about noise from the blasting (pictures have fallen off her walls), from the trucks that carry trash, and from construction. In order to reach cell four, Moretown Landfill will have to build a new service road, which will run eight feet from her property. About half of the trees between her property and the landfill, trees that currently buffer noise and smells, will be removed.

Badowski said cell four would be further away from residential areas than cells currently in use, which would reduce the noise. At the site visit, it wasn’t apparent that the blasting would be farther from adjacent properties, especially because the blasting currently occurs in a part of where cell four is proposed. The landfill apparently has a permit to blast in this area, called a “borrow area,” though they do not yet have a permit to expand into cell four.

Interstate Waste has promised to buy two properties just west of the landfill if the cell four expansion is approved, according to Badowski.

When asked whether there would be more expansions in the future, especially given that the landfill owns over 200 acres and currently occupies less than 50, Badowski wouldn’t say whether there would be, only that there are currently no plans for further expansions beyond cell four.

Rep. Tony Klein, who authored Act 148, a solid waste bill that was enacted this summer and which will prohibit landfills from taking in organic material beginning in 2017, said, “In the big picture it would be nice to expand the life expectancy of the Moretown Landfill because we only have one other landfill operating in the state…but it needs to be done absolutely correctly.”

Controlling odors

According to George Desch, of ANR, over the years the landfill has received a number of Notices of Alleged Violation from the state.

These “resulted in them making some substantial improvements,” said Desch.

One of the improvements was to convert extremely odorous landfill gas into electricity. Another, to set up an odor complaint hotline.

In July of this year, Desch sent a letter to Interstate Waste saying that the “moderate to strong” odors and “demonstrated inability to control odors” may influence whether the Solid Waste Management Program grants the company a permit for expansion. It may even influence whether the landfill’s current operations in cell three are recertified.

Desch said there have been continued complaints about odors since the July letter, in spite of the use of odor neutralizers.

Badowski, the landfill manager, cites three sources of odor: trash, gas produced by the decomposition of the trash, and trash-contaminated water that leaches out the bottom of the landfill.

Moretown Landfill entrance

Moretown Landfill entrance. Photo by Audrey Clark

Moretown Landfill operators spray odor neutralizers on the trash as it is being dumped and then cover it with mulch or gravel. Badowski said they use two neutralizers now, but over the last several years they’ve used eight or nine different neutralizers in all.

The Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the neutralizers that are currently used do not list specific ingredients because the formulas for the neutralizers are proprietary.

One of the neutralizers, Neutralene 7030SF, is a blend of Neutralene odor counteractant and Noxorb gas and odor absorber. It is produced by AirCare Technology of Texas. According to the data sheets, the toxicity of Neutralene 7030SF is “not established” and it “may cause irritation” if it is inhaled, ingested, or comes in contact with eyes or skin. Neutralene 7030SF is vaporized into the air around the working area of the landfill whenever trash is dumped.

According to the AirCare Technology website, Neutralene 7030SF has been tested on animals for eye and skin irritation and oral and inhalation toxicity. These tests measure the animals’ reactions to short-term exposure and observe the animals no more than 21 days. They do not measure long-term health effects from continued exposure. The tests do not appear to measure numbness; rather, they look for obvious symptoms of toxicity, such as behavioral and weight changes, lesions and mortality.

When asked about the numbness of tongue and nose that Baughman experiences, John Sbarbaro, the technical partner for Air Care Technology said, “Neutralene has been out for eight years, and we have never had any complaints like that.”

The other neutralizer that Moretown Landfill currently uses is called SL-4000 and is produced by Envirochem, of South River, N.J. It contains essential oils and botanicals, emulsifiers and stabilizers, proprietary neutralizer, and fragrance (propylene glycol-winter). The MSDS says that “Contact with eyes may cause irritation or burns. May cause irritation and defatting of skin.” Defatting involves the loss of lipids from the skin that may lead to dermatitis.

SL-4000, which has a “cherry” scent, is misted into the air along the access road and sprayed onto the sludge when it is dumped, as well as “whenever trash-related odors are encountered,” according to a Sept. 17 letter from the landfill in response to the Development Review Board’s request for more information.

A representative from Envirochem, who asked not to be named, said, “All the ingredients in the product are biodegradable, all are on the Generally Recognized As Safe list [an Environmental Protection Agency designation]. The products are safe when used as directed and they’ve been used across the country for more than 10 years without any ill effects. The products are typically diluted about one part per thousand with water.”

A landfill official confirmed that one of the odor neutralizers is diluted in a ratio of 1:1000 neutralizer to water.

An unidentified neutralizer is also sprayed onto the sludge trucks after they have dumped material. The data sheets for all of these neutralizers say that they are safe to use in well-ventilated areas.

The landfill operators also cover trash with gravel as soon as possible after it has been dumped. Moretown Landfill obtains the gravel by blasting into the side of Cobb Hill. Badowski said they blast once every two to three days for six to seven weeks per year, typically in the summer. This material is then stockpiled and used for the rest of the year.

The landfill also runs two machines that turn methane gas into 1.3 megawatts of electricity each; the rest of the methane gas is burned off. The landfill is currently applying for permission to add a third machine that will make use of the excess methane. The gas is sold to Pennsylvania Power & Light Renewable Energy, which converts it to electricity and sells it to Green Mountain Power. The methane-to-electricity conversion currently produces enough electricity to power 2,600 homes.

The water that leaches out the bottom of lined cells in the landfill is collected and shipped to Barre, Burlington North, and Essex Junction wastewater treatment facilities. It is temporarily stored on site in a tank that is constantly misted with odor neutralizer.

In spite of all this effort, complaints are still rolling in. Why?

Moretown Landfill takes in sewage sludge every day from Northhampton and Holyoke, Mass., as well as New York state, a total of 17,000 tons per year. The sludge provides a source of revenue for the landfill, though Badowski wouldn’t say how much. Because waste is classified as interstate commerce, it can’t be regulated by the state. The sludge also maintains the chemistry of the landfill by providing a source of moisture, which encourages a productive microbial population to decompose the trash. This in turn provides methane gas, which is converted to electricity and sold back to the grid.

When John Riley, the chair of the Development Review Board, asked Badowski at a public hearing last week, “Do you get a premium for accepting sludge materials?” Badowski responded, “The answer is no.”

But Badowski conceded that if neighbors can smell methane, “We need to do a better job of collecting the gas.” If the gas is collected correctly and completely, there should be no smell.

Groundwater contamination

The groundwater underneath the landfill and downhill to the Winooski River, less than 200 feet away, is being downgraded from potable to non-potable.

George Desch, director of the Waste Management and Prevention Division of the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), said that most groundwater in Vermont is classified as potable by default. The reclassification is a result of tests that revealed elevated levels of arsenic, iron and/or manganese in 13 out of 19 groundwater testing wells on the landfill property.

The groundwater uphill of the landfill is also contaminated with arsenic and manganese, which appears to be naturally occurring. However, these elements are present in higher levels downhill of an unlined cell in the landfill. The unlined cell was closed in 1994 and capped with impermeable plastic in 2006. This limited the amount of water flowing through the cell and carrying contaminants down into the groundwater. Since then, the concentration of arsenic has been declining and is now within the Department of Environmental Conservation’s standard.

The Moretown Landfill’s Class IV Groundwater Reclassification Petition from April of this year says that this reclassification will affect the drinking water supply for the landfill and town clerk’s offices, a residence just west of the landfill, and a business (JP Glassworks) north of the landfill. All of these buildings are supplied by a single well that is within the required 200-foot buffer around the groundwater reclassification area. If the landfill is allowed to expand into cell four, a new well will be established well west of the buffer. VTDigger was not able to discover by press time if a new well will be established if the landfill does not expand.

If the groundwater is reclassified, the landfill will have to submit a plan to clean it up.

Wells on six properties that abut the landfill have been tested for a variety of contaminants. Baughman and Ransom’s well had high but not unsafe levels of arsenic and manganese.

Groundwater was designated as a public trust in Vermont last year, which means that it belongs to all Vermonters and cannot be privately owned. So far, the state statute has been used in the courts to limit groundwater withdrawal as well as pollution.

Vermont Natural Resources Council helped to pass Act 199, which was designed to extend the same legal protections to groundwater that are part of the public trust doctrine for surface waters like rivers and streams.

Kim Greenwood, water program director and staff scientist for the council, said ANR has yet to determine how Act 199 plays out with respect to permitting.

Last year, the Moretown Landfill applied for a permit that would exempt it from some groundwater protection rules; ANR denied the permit.

“That was an instance where the agency came out very strongly in favor of groundwater protection,” Greenwood said.

Vermont Natural Resources Council has not requested party status in any of the ANR permit hearings, but Greenwood said, “we are following [the Moretown Landfill case] to make sure that the agency really continues to take a strong stance on groundwater protection.”

A slew of permits

The certification process for expansion into cell four is a complicated arrangement of timing and permits. First, the landfill must get a number of permits from the state, including groundwater, fish and wildlife, and leachate permits.

Then the town Development Review Board must determine whether the landfill’s application complies with the town plan and zoning ordinances. ANR’s Solid Waste Management Program will also review the expansion. Finally, the state’s District Five Natural Resources Commission will review the landfill’s application for compliance with Act 250.

If all these certifications are approved, the landfill must then apply for a different air quality permit.

According to Badowski, the landfill began to apply for the eight or nine permits needed for an expansion in 2004.

According to Susan Baird, the assistant coordinator for the District Five Environmental Commission, which reviews Act 250 permit applications, the deadline for requests for party status in the hearing was on Sept. 14. Following these requests, which outline the concerns of affected parties like the Ransoms, the landfill has 15 days to comment on the concerns. Then the state will decide who receives party status and the hearing will move forward.

The town of Waterbury applied for party status in the Act 250 hearing because, according to Kane Smart, the Planning Commission chair, “The landfill just outside Waterbury has significant impacts to the area,” whether those impacts are positive (such as jobs) or negative (such as traffic or aesthetics).

According to the minutes of a Moretown Development Review Board meeting on Sept. 6 of this year, available online in the Act 250 database, the landfill submitted an application to the town Development Review Board, but the board determined the application to be incomplete. This application was accepted by the Moretown zoning administrator already.

Badowski, the landfill manager, serves on the Development Review Board, but for the review of the landfill application, he was replaced by Raymond Munn, who voted against considering the incomplete application. The board voted 3-to-2 in favor of considering the application, but required additional documentation from the landfill.

When Moretown residents suggested that members of the Development Review Board might not be impartial when considering the application of a fellow board member, the chair, attorney John Riley, dismissed the idea by suggesting that board members might also be acquainted with neighbors of the landfill.

James Dumont, Baughman and Ransom’s attorney and a former professor of environmental law at Vermont Law School, sees three ways landfill activities could be limited by law. Dumont says Highstar’s operations at the landfill constitute a nuisance under common law -- that is they prevent the Ransoms from reasonable use and enjoyment of their land. He also says that landfill activities can be considered to have undue adverse impacts on the neighbors’ health and on air and water quality under Act 250 and local zoning ordinances.

A site visit and public hearing with the Development Review Board was held on Sept. 27. Two more meetings are scheduled to discuss the expansion in more depth: October 11 at 7 p.m. at the Moretown town offices (in the same building as the landfill office) to discuss stormwater, blasting, and the design of cell four; and Oct. 25 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss groundwater quality and odors.

Don't miss a thing. Sign up here to get VTDigger's weekly email on the energy industry and the environment.


Audrey Clark

About Audrey

Audrey Clark writes articles on climate change and the environment for VTDigger, including the monthly column Landscape Confidential. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in conservation biology from Prescott College in Arizona, she worked as a field ecology research assistant and college teaching assistant for five years. Among her adventures during that period, Audrey identified tiny flowers while kneeling on the burning ground in the Mojave Desert in the summer, interviewed sea turtle poachers in Africa, and tracked wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains. Audrey began studying the nature of Vermont in 2010 and received her master’s of science from the University of Vermont’s Field Naturalist Program in 2012. She has worked as a freelance environmental journalist since then. She also works at UVM’s Pringle Herbarium, where she handles 100-year-old plant specimens. Audrey is learning fiddle and scientific illustration and lives in Burlington with her partner, cat, several dozen guppies, a few shrimp, and too many snails.

Email: aclark@vtdigger.org

Send us your thoughts

VTDigger is now accepting letters to the editor. For information about our guidelines, and access to the letter form, please click here.


Recent Stories

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Out-of-state sludge shipments to Moretown landfill raise questions ab..."
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.