Fargo Inspector Has a Nose for Landfills

Fargo Inspector Has a Nose for Landfills

A North Dakota environmental scientist has a state certified nose for identifying odor issues at area landfills. Jane Kangas, who works for the North Dakota Department of Health based in Fargo, says she has to take an annual course to keep her nose “up to snuff” and utilizes a device to verify her readings.

Waste360 recently sat down with Kangas to learn more about her ability to sniff out odor issues at landfills in the state of North Dakota.

Waste360: Is your nose really state certified for landfill odor control? How does that certification work?

Jane Kangas: Yes, the North Dakota Department of Health Air Quality Division sponsors an odor certification course in which the individual has to demonstrate the ability to distinguish various odorous samples and concentrations. This course is offered on an annual basis to both Department employees and other interested individuals, such as local industry, consultants, etc.

The official title of the course is an “odor certification course.” The course consists of three odor tests; an intensity test, triangle test and multi-component test. You do not have to have a perfect score on the test because that could mean your nose is too sensitive to smells.

Waste360: How did you learn you had this skill and how do you develop it?

Jane Kangas: The North Dakota Department of Health requires the odor certification course for certain employees, depending on what our job duties are. I am also required to be certified because I am in a field office in the eastern part of the state or Fargo, ND.

Waste360: How many landfills do you do odor inspections for and what is the process?

Jane Kangas: We do not regularly perform odor inspections at a landfill, unless we receive a significant number of complaints from the public. The City of Fargo Landfill is the largest municipal landfill in the state of North Dakota, and I have performed odor inspections there in the past, but not recently.

Waste360: How are the odors measured?

Jane Kangas: It depends on the location of the source of the odor. For an area outside of a city, the odor measurement is taken within 100 feet of any residence, church, school, business, public building, or within a campground or public park. If the residence, church, school was built after the source of the odor was established, then the distance is within one half mile.

If the source of the odor is within city limits, the measurement is taken at the property boundary where the discharge is occurring. The department currently uses a Nasal Ranger, a field olfactometer device. Basically you place the device over your nose, and take a breath. The device has several different ports or settings that you set as you take each breath. The higher the numbered setting, the stronger the odor.

Waste360: What is considered unsafe or in violation?

Jane Kangas: The North Dakota Air Pollution Control Rules states that a person may not discharge into the ambient air any objectionable odorous air contaminant that measures seven odor concentration units or higher (OCU). We do have one city in North Dakota, West Fargo, which has a local ordinance with only two OCU as the limit.

Waste360: What was the worst reading you ever had to do? What was your reaction?

Jane Kangas: The worse reading I have ever experienced was 31 OCU on an older field olfactometer at the property boundary of a former corn ethanol plant lagoon a few years ago. The odor was hard to describe, a cross between rotting grain and burned plastic, and it immediately permeated the car, our hair, clothes, shoes, etc. We would take the reading on the device, quick get back in the car, and drive a mile away before we took a second reading. We took odor measurements three weeks in a row and had to change clothes and sprayed Febreeze so we could make it the two hour trip back home to Fargo!

Waste360: Do you test odors for anything other than landfills?

Jane Kangas: We perform odor inspections on not just landfills, but other facilities. The City of Fargo Landfill now harnesses their methane gas and converts it to electricity. This has significantly cut down on the landfill odors. The City of Fargo has grown around the landfill, so they are more visible and scrutinized by the public. I have not performed odor inspections at the smaller inert landfills I inspect, because they are only allowed to accept inert materials that should not produce an odor. I have used the device on lagoon smell complaints, feed lots, rotting grain at elevators, and used mud solids from sugar beet plants.  I have also occasionally used the device on public complaints about local businesses, etc.

Waste360: What is your background in the waste and landfill industry?

Jane Kangas: I have worked for the North Dakota Department of Health for 21 years in the air quality division, and for the past nine years I have split my time between the division of waste management and the division of air quality. My bachelor’s degree is in meteorological studies from the University of North Dakota (UND), and my master’s degree is in geological studies, also from UND. For the waste management division, I currently routinely inspect the City of Fargo Landfill and on an annual basis, I inspect 24 smaller inert landfills for 6.5 counties in eastern North Dakota. I also have other duties, such as complaint investigations and public education.

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