Waste Connections landfill in Louisiana not responsible for odors, says company-commissioned study
- A new report commissioned by Waste Connections, the primary operator of the Jefferson Parish Landfill in Louisiana, has determined the site isn't to blame for the bulk of odor complaints from neighboring communities, as reported by the New Orleans Advocate.
- The recurring emissions, which drew 679 official complaints from residents between August 2017 and September 2018 according to NOLA.com, have prompted accusations of landfill mismanagement and multiple pending class-action lawsuits. However, the study identifies a host of other potential sources, including two nearby River Birch-owned landfills. River Birch previously denied that it bears responsibility for odors impacting the area.
- The Jefferson Parish Council said Wednesday it may consider seeking EPA assistance — and taking legal action against Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for access to public records — regarding air quality issues.
The report arrives months after residents of Waggaman, River Ridge and Harahan first began complaining of noxious odors — often described as triggering a burning sensation in the eyes, nose and throat ― late last year. Ire toward the parish landfill ramped up in July after new details emerged regarding the facility’s faulty, decades-old leachate and gas collection system. Since then, a landfill engineer has resigned and at least four separate lawsuits seeking unspecified damages have been filed against Waste Connections, the parish and other entities.
But the study, which was conducted this past summer by California-based SCS Engineers, largely supports parish officials’ claim that, leaky collection systems aside, the landfill is not solely to blame for odor issues affecting the area. Findings indicate that “very few [of 157 verifiable odor complaints between late July and early September] correlated to a wind direction … consistent with the Jefferson Parish Landfill being the possible source.” Instead, the report concludes, over 80% of the odor observations most likely stemmed from other sources — including two River Birch-owned landfills and various industrial facilities.
In addition to odors, River Ridge residents have noticed in recent weeks mysterious snow-like flakes floating in the air at night. The parish environmental department has not sampled the substance, with council members suggesting Wednesday that state environmental officials should take the lead on an investigation.
Jefferson Parish Landfill is only one in a string of recent tensions surrounding landfills nationwide. As Waste Dive previously reported, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) authorized an odor abatement plan for Waste Management's High Acres Landfill following residential complaints, and a Waste Connections landfill in Pennsylvania was hit with its own odor-related class-action suit in June 2018. Another Waste Connections site, Seneca Meadows in New York, has also faced ongoing community relations challenges due in part to odors.
As residential developments continue to spring up next to landfill sites (and vice versa), conflicts between communities and nearby facilities can be expected to continue. In an August 2018 interview with Waste Dive, Waste Connections CEO Ron Mittelstaedt noted, “It’s getting harder… people still just innately don’t want to live adjacent to or next to one, or want one built in their backyard.” On the other hand, Mittelstaedt observed, people also don’t want to pay more for recycling — “and that’s why there’s a reckoning coming.”
It remains to be seen whether the new report will help mitigate Jefferson Parish Landfill's legal troubles or affect its pending permit renewal. In late October, DEQ ruled against the embattled landfill’s request for a second delay in its renewal application, placing pressure on the facility to complete ongoing repairs and upgrades — including eliminating odor issues — at least 455 days in advance of the present permit’s January 2020 expiration.