Health department evaluating options to resolve landfill issues

Editor’s note: This news release from the Seneca County General Health District explains the issues at Sunny Farms Landfill and invites the public to a public forum to learn more.We recognize that there is an odor problem at Sunny Farms Landfill and this press release is designed to help residents understand the nature of this issue and to invite them to a public forum to learn what is being done to address it.

The odor is the result of rainwater infiltrating into landfill cells, mixing with crushed gypsum board in buried construction and demolition debris waste. Bacteria are breaking down the gypsum (calcium sulfate) in C&DD waste and generating hydrogen sulfide gas as a by-product of this reaction.

The Ohio Department of Health website states hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas that can have a strong rotten egg odor. H2S is produced by the sulfur bacteria that break down organic matter.

Hydrogen sulfide is found naturally in the environment and also is generated from human-made activities.

According to the Ohio Department of Health, hydrogen sulfide gas can irritate the eyes, nose and throat. Eyes may become watery, red and itchy. Exposure to H2S can also cause headaches, nausea, fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain and other health-related symptoms.

Most people can smell H2S at levels much lower than the levels that can cause these health effects. Just because you smell H2S, does not always mean you will experience adverse health effects. However, sensitive populations such as infants, young children, the elderly, people with asthma or other respiratory problems and people with heart problems may be more likely to experience these symptoms from exposure to H2S.

The landfill, the county health department and Ohio EPA personnel all use a Jerome Meter to test H2S levels at the site.

Seneca County General Health District is the licensing authority for the landfill. Efforts are being made to understand the issue better before health board officials feel they can make an educated decision on the license renewal for 2019. The health board is to hold a regular meeting this evening, but no decision is to be made on the license.

The renewal is considered annually, and licenses typically are acted upon by the first of the year. In this

case, it is unclear when a decision could be made.

Health Commissioner Beth Schweitzer said she believes the landfill is working hard to remedy the odor

issues, but she said the board is evaluating all of its options.

“We have engaged with an environmental attorney to determine, legally, what we can do,” she said. “We truly understand the citizens’ concerns, and we are doing what is in our power to alleviate this

problem. We are giving careful consideration to what our next step should be with this license.”

The health board can grant or deny the license, but they are not limited to those two options. In 2007, the health department followed the lead of the Ohio EPA by issuing a “proposed denial” of the landfill’s license. The issue dragged on for several months, but the company did not cease operations at any point. Eventually, the license was granted because the landfill had worked toward fixing the problems they were having.

One other option would be to grant the license to the landfill with conditions. This would mean the landfill would be subject to losing the license if it does not follow the agreed-upon conditions attached to it. These conditions could include testing requirements for specific chemicals or gases.

The Ohio Administrative Code states, “The owner or operator shall operate the facility (a landfill) in such a manner that noise, dust, and odors are strictly controlled so as not to cause a nuisance or a health hazard.”

The Ohio EPA has issued three notices of violation reports and one notice of deficiency report to Sunny Farms since December. These notices force the landfill into action, making them respond with a plan to fix the problems within.

Although the Seneca County Commissioners don’t have any direct regulatory authority over the landfill, the three are working to understand the issue better and to find ways to reach a positive outcome for all parties.

“It is imperative that the current management bring their operation into compliance with our expectations for good corporate citizenship,” said Commissioner Shayne Thomas. “The time is now for them to be open and transparent and increase the level of communication with affected citizens. We will continue to collect information and evaluate our options.”

According to a statement from Sunny Farms, the landfill is working to control potential odors by investing millions of dollars in additional systems and state-of-the-art technologies. The company states it is constructing a new hydrogen sulfide treatment system, it is working on a 22-acre capping project and it plans to continue expanding the landfill’s gas collection system.

Schweitzer encouraged concerned residents to report any complaints they have and to attend the Jan. 30 public forum to learn more about the issue and what is being done to address it. She said the forum was scheduled by health board members as part of the process to understand better and eventually resolve this problem.

Representatives from Sunny Farms Landfill, Ohio EPA and Seneca County General Health District are to give short presentations at the beginning of the forum. After the presentations, those in attendance will have the opportunity to submit questions to the entities mentioned above. The Ohio Department of Health also will have representatives available to help answer questions. The event should last until about 8 p.m.

Seneca County Public Information Officer Dean Henry will moderate the event. Those interested in submitting questions or comments before the meeting can use the email address SunnyFarmsFeedback@gmail.com and include the word “forum” in the subject line. During the event, those in attendance may submit questions or comments on a card.

Here is some contact information for reporting issues related to the landfill:

Seneca County General Health District: (419) 447-3691

Sunny Farms Odor Complaint Line: (866) 419-8639

Ohio EPA, Northwest District: (800) 686-6930 or (419) 352-8461

Complaint email (monitored by the health

department): SunnyFarmsFeedback@gmail.com.