Gone with the Wind

Controlling facility odor can make solid waste managers feel like NBA players trying to stop Michael "Air" Jordan on a basketball court. Stopping the Bulls' No. 23 is easier said than done. Ditto for odor.

Often pegged as the biggest problem plaguing waste facilities, odor can slam dunk companies that don't control their sites' stomach-turning smells.

Although there are no federal regulations governing odor currently, companies must contain stench in some way, or they will surely hear about it from neighbors and employees.

There are many methods to combat odor - chemicals, coverings and specially designed facilities - but if solid waste managers want to win, they must start with a game plan, money and dedication.

Ready to play? Consider the following examples of successful teams that are beating this revolting rival.

Covering the Bases Mark Eyeington, director of solid waste management operations at the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County, Palm Beach, Calif., uses a combination of methods to nullify noxious odors, including coverings, chemicals and plants. The authority handles all the waste generated by the county and operates landfills, ferrous reclamation and transfer stations.

Eyeington's stringent operational practices include covering waste, ensuring proper drainage and preventing garbage from blowing into employees' faces.

The Palm Beach facilities run both Class 1 (industrial waste and ash) and Class 3 (inert garbage and construction debris) landfills. Class 1 landfills have a double plastic liner, while Class 3 sites, which tend to be smellier because they contain more vegetation and sulfur, require a single liner. Gas recovery is done at all active landfills.

Wells are sunk both horizontally and vertically, and gas is extracted from the fill. Odor-controlling products also are used.

"We use a misting system on the perimeter of the landfill and, in some cases, on the top," Eyeington says. "It sprays a masking agent rather than a neutralizer. I won't call it a 'chemical' because that has negative connotations. Rather, it's a nontoxic, pleasant, aromatic scent that overpowers the odor."

Still, such defense methods do not completely solve the problem. Palm Beach's biggest challenge, Eyeington says, is an upscale neighborhood less than a mile away from the fill. Palm Beach County waste officials meet with residents quarterly and have set up a hotline so that residents can report unneighborly smells.

"We monitor the fill and environmental conditions, and track complaints using a database," he explains. "We also are rebuilding a full weather station that will monitor the wind direction and speed, barometric pressure, humidity and temperature. It's all computerized, and it's much more efficient than a windsock on the edge of the fill."

Palm Beach also plants naturally aromatic plants, such as lemon and orange trees, and night-blooming jasmine, around the fill's edge.

Eyeington says this greenery offers a pleasant scent and looks nice, although alone it isn't enough to sufficiently stifle foul smells. Because the most cost-effective methods are preferred, Eyeington says he thinks gas recovery systems "give the best bang for the buck," but quickly adds that "good housekeeping also is key."

Palm Beach runs its misting system selectively - only when the wind is blowing toward the neighborhood. In addition, the authority employs a "close as you go" philosophy so that only small portions of the fill are exposed at any time, reducing the chance that the odor will be picked up by the wind.

Knocking out Odor Wayne Rathbun, site manager at Waste Management Inc., Tulsa, Okla., aims to knock out odor before it becomes a factor by renting neutralizer units manufactured by Howe-Baker Engineers, Tyler, Texas, to his customers.

This method eliminates odors in the air by turning them into ozone, a form of oxygen with energy added to it that is more chemically active than oxygen.

The self-contained units, which can operate unattended and don't require chemicals, clear the air in six to eight hours by emitting ozone that breaks down odor molecules, Rathbun says.

However, the units must operate in a confined location, such as a truck or garbage container, due to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandate that people cannot be in the same room with an ozone generator.

The ozone combines with odor molecules to create different compounds. Odor molecules are typically hydrocarbons, and when they are combined with ozone, the resulting compounds are water vapor and carbon dioxide.

Besides controlling odor, ozone also retards bacterial growth and reduces the festering slime and mildew in trucks and trash containers.

Richard White, director of public works in Fairfield, Conn., also has scored big points against odor. The town's composting facility, which sits square in the town's center, has intermittent odor problems.

For the past six years, White has defended Fairfield against stench with the help of products from NaturePlus, Stratford, Conn.

These fermentation-based products are comprised of ingredients such as molasses and coconut oil which can be used to control human and animal odors, as well as garbage smells.

The nontoxic ingredients form a sprayable liquid that breaks down the odor-causing compounds.

To keep costs low, White installed a new low-pressure pump module in the facility to automatically dispense the solution and also purchased dilutable formulas. "Complaints have dropped off significantly since [we started] using the products," White notes. "[We] didn't get any [complaints] last summer, despite the unusually dry and warm weather."

Fighting Foulness with Fog The key to beating the offense is to put up a keen defense - or in this case, one that intercepts odor before it escapes the facility.

Bill Johnson, maintenance operator at Yuba City, Calif.'s Water Reclamation Plant, battles odor with foggers, deodorizers and deodorizing liquids - an odor control cocktail that has reduced the amount of complaints the facility receives.

Johnson uses 10 foggers, manufactured by Fogmaster Corp., Deerfield Beach, Fla., that run continually for two hours.

Features include one valve that allows users to control the flow of particles and another valve that provides control over the size of particles expelled.

The foggers combine chemicals and water and then release the mixture into the air as a mist, which can either be heavy or light, depending on the setting. A repeat cycle timer allows users to set fog intervals.

"We run the foggers when the wind blows from the North because the [residences] are on the South side," Johnson explains. "They're set to use 2 ounces to 10 ounces [of deodorizing chemicals] per minute, and we can adjust that according to what we need."

Whether you have chemicals, nature or electric stink zappers on your team, playing against odor is not fun and games. And while odor is a formidable foe, it's not impossible to beat.

Even Jordan has his off days.

If your mind starts to reel when you ponder how best to combat your facility's odor problems, the following checklist might help: * Do you have an odor problem? Admitting you have a problem is the first step, says Sheldon Murphy of NaturePlus, Stratford, Conn. Just because you haven't had complaints doesn't mean there isn't a problem - or a potential problem waiting to pop up.

* Do you want to do something about your facility's odor? "There aren't a lot of [managers] out there who say, 'I have a social responsibility to the community,'" Murphy says. You must understand the costs and commitment required not only to control odor, but also to continue the job on a daily basis.

* What is your budget? Decide what you are willing to spend to get the job done. "[Odor control is] a long-term plan. The more visionary managers are, the easier it is to work with them," Murphy says. "Facility operators often make decisions that are really short-term solutions. We get requests from people wanting quick fixes, but if you go cheap, you get what you pay for."

* Do you know your enemy? The appropriate odor control plan depends on the type and the strength of the odor you want to obliterate, says Curtis Nipp of the Sonozaire Division of Howe-Baker Engineers, Tyler, Texas.

"[When contacted by an interested party,] I [first] find out what kind of odor it is that a facility manager is trying to control," he says.

Knowing the particulars of the odor's source and environment - the size of the compactor/container and whether the odor is generated indoors or outdoors - will help you be as specific as possible when targeting the best odor control solution.

Scientists at the University of Missouri, Columbia, are going hog wild trying to combat animal odors, which are difficult to neutralize and mask.

The arresting aroma produced by pigs in particular is not only one of the most difficult smells to control, but it also is noxious enough to make anyone within a two-mile radius pinch his nose.

A group of researchers at the university is attempting to control the offensive odor by starting at the source - the hogs. In this process, there are no chemicals or machines involved.

Instead, the scientists have discovered that they can deodorize hog farms by modifying the pigs' diets.

The theory: If hogs eat exactly the right amount and the right types of food, then more food is used by their bodies and less is excreted.

By reducing the amounts of nitrogen in the hog excrement, the stink decreases as well, according to researcher Mark Newcomb. To this end, Newcomb has developed ideal protein-ration diets for hogs. By adjusting the proportions of what is consumed by the hogs, the researchers also can control what comes out.

But putting hogs on diets isn't enough to solve the problem. At hog farms, manure typically is collected in lagoons where bacteria breaks it down, producing a putrid stench.

To combat this odor, animal scientist Trygve Veum discovered that polyphenol, a chemical found in Japanese tea, can be added to hog manure.

Veum found that this chemical actually lowers the bacterial production of the organic compounds that create the smell.

While polyphenol may not make hog farms smell as sweet as roses, tea certainly would be a marked improvement over the offensive animal odors that are so difficult to neutralize.