Hunker Down On Funky Town

Initially, the orchard fan worked well for the Spokane (Wash.) Regional Solid Waste System (SRSWS), when odors at its Colbert Composting Facility caught the attention and outrage of nearby residents. But, the solution-through-dilution concept was grounded quickly when complaints switched from a malodorous concern to that of an aerial nature.

"It was a 12-feet-diameter fan, very similar to an airplane propeller," explains Damon Taam, SRSWS director. "It was effective, but it sounded like a helicopter."

With a pending lawsuit to serve as a reminder of the odor problem's severity, Taam and his peers determined to find another solution that would make a considerate neighbor out of this integrated solid waste system that serves 370,000 residents.

This $2 million, 42-acre composting site houses a 500-horsepower electrical grinder, maintenance facility, loader, trommel screen and many windrows of compost. Odors plagued the facility due to the high volume of grass. "Composting leaves is easy," Taam says. "But when you start talking grass, you're on a whole other level. It comes in one big slug, but you've got to have a bulking material which we didn't have when we began the operation."

The odor nuisance for residents within a 1,000-foot radius multiplied at sunset: A stagnant air condition during the evenings resulted in air stratus following the contours of the land and eventually "hitting" residences. "You actually could walk into odor veins of about 50 feet wide and walk back out of them," Taam notes.

SRSWS selected a misting system using Odor Gone, a formula designed to neutralize odors, manufactured by Natural Products Inc., Jeffersonville, Pa. "Our air pollution laws don't allow us to mask odors," he explains. "They must be neutralized."

The odor control agent is deployed through a 1,900-foot misting system strung on aircraft cable hanging from telephone poles. Two pump houses, each with a seven-gallon-per-minute pump, adds the formula to filtered water at a dilution of 500 to one.

The system is controlled by automatic timers with manual override switches. It's operated daily for eight hours from 5 a.m. until 8 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Time periods are adjusted to provide coverage during the hours that odors move off site.

"When you make citizens unhappy, you've got a problem," he explains. "[Residents] want us gone. But, we've got $2 million invested in this site and [leaving is] just not an option."

Kephardt Trucking Co., Bigler, Pa., dispatches 190 trucks daily to the New York City metropolitan area and communities in Philadelphia and New Jersey. Fleet Manager Jack Yingling's armada transports baled and loose municipal solid waste, sludges and non-hazardous contaminated soils and dirts.

The 20-year-old company's home terminal is located in a semi-residential area which makes odor control one of Yingling's top priorities.

"Controlling odor is part of our 'good neighbor' policy," he explains. "We've never really done a true cost study, but gaining goodwill and doing the job right are the only ways to survive in the solid waste industry."

Yingling uses a biological-based product that accelerates the waste degradation process organically while controlling odor.

"Because we have to store trailers overnight, we've been using both the misters and direct application for a long time," he says.

In Holland, some solid waste haulers employ a similar product dispersed through fogger fans and nozzles. Every time waste is compacted and the smells are opened up, "a gadget hooked up to the air brakes" releases the misting agent and continuously deodorizes the area, reports Michael Larson of EcoCare, New Canaan, Conn.

Other products, such as those made by Epoleon Corp., Torrance, Calif., neutralize acidic and alkali gases through chemical conversions.

Some solid waste managers are going au naturel, employing naturally-occurring ozone to stifle their indoor stenches. Agents such as Sonozaire, manufactured by HoweBaker Engineers in Tyler, Texas, attach to odor molecules and break them down into something less noxious.

"Ozone is a self-policing compound: If it has nothing to react with, it will react with itself - meaning it has a life of six to 13 minutes," explains Howe-Baker's Curtis Nipp.

"It also lets you know it's in the air. If concentrations are correct, it smells sweet, good and clean. If concentrations get too high, your eyes water and nose runs and, in essence, it tells you to leave the room."

Besides controlling odors, ozone also retards bacterial growth and reduces slime and mildew in trash containers.

Containing The Rumpke Rumble In a matter of minutes, on March 9, 1996, 25 acres of waste and dirt broke loose from the closed cocoon of a 40-year-old landfill and came to rest in a newly-excavated, 12-acre cell. As members of the solid waste industry analyzed and speculated about the massive earth movement with a mixture of awe and selfish relief, officials with Rumpke Consolidated Companies, Cincinnati, worked to contain the largest landslide in landfill history.

"We knew right away - as did all of the regulatory agencies - that odor was one of our concerns," recalls Rumpke spokesperson John Leach. "We had old waste uncovered by the slide and, since it was March, we could expect to be working [to correct the problem] through the summer when odor really can be a problem."

Rumpke engineers determined the standard landfill practices of controlling odor with daily cover were impractical and insufficient due to the large area of uncovered waste at this 240-acre Rumpke Sanitary Landfill situated just outside the Cincinnati metropolitan area.

With noses covered, Rumpke officials' eyes turned to the 200 homes that had been built within a half-mile radius from the site. "The community was built around the landfill," says Landfill Manager Steve Keylor. "Most of the homes post-date the landfill which has existed for 40 years."

Rumpke's plan entailed a two-fold approach: Covering the exposed waste and controlling odors. Steep and dangerous slopes caused by the landslide prevented heavy equipment from being used to cover the immense area of exposed waste.

"We knew getting the waste covered would minimize odors, but the sheer magnitude of the slide would not totally eliminate them," Keylor says.

Rumpke officials selected Posi-Shell, a slurry of kiln dust, cellulose and water manufactured by Landfill Service Corp., Apalachin, N.Y., as a cover material because it could be sprayed on uncovered wastes from great distances, reducing the injury risk.

"Our second hurdle was odor," Keylor says. "We knew a masking agent would not be effective on the large quantity of odor expected." Rumpke selected a system manufactured by Ecolo Odor Systems, Toronto, that deploys essential, non-toxic oils through a series of strategically-placed nozzles. Once atomized into the air, the oils bond with and neutralize odor molecules.

The logistics demanded some creativity. Because areas around the landslide were inaccessible, officials constructed a make-shift clothesline around the slide's perimeter to allow continuous spraying. "Plastic tubing was strung along poles in the air," he says. "At each pole, there's a nozzle. The tubing carries the agent from storage where it's mixed with water."

Rumpke officials currently operate a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week odor abatement program.

The system's cost must be put in the perspective of the overall landslide problem, Keylor notes. "From an operations perspective, it's rather expensive, but then I look at it in perspective to the number of complaints we could have received. It takes a day or two to see some results and [the system's] gone down a few times in the winter, but in cold weather, you don't have as many odors."

While complaints were reduced, Leach admits the dire predictions of a huge odor problem were overstated. "During the summer of 1996, while we were constructing the slope, we conducted a lot of tours, and I never heard anyone say the odor was overpowering. I actually remember a number of comments like, 'Gee, the smell isn't as bad as I thought it would be.'"

Fumin' In L.A. And Olympia In the dry, desert regions of California and South America, a versatile and hardy species of the Yucca plant grows that not only controls odors, but is used in carbonated beverages, perfumes, cosmetics and cleaning agents. The Los Angeles County Sanitation Department (LACSD) swears by it. Wheatec Inc. of Wheaton, Ill., capitalizes on it. Taking an extract from the Yucca shidigera plant, the company manufactures a natural odor control agent that binds odors such as hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and similar compounds to neutralize them.

When New York City began diverting waste to landfills in neighboring states, the Puente Hills Landfill in Los Angeles County became the nation's largest solid waste landfill. Consequently, facility employees make conscientious efforts to reduce the odors associated with the 13,000 tons of waste delivered daily. With neighbors residing less than 4,000 feet from the 1,500-acre site, odor control is a top priority.

LACSD employees mix the agent with water and apply it daily to the landfill. "We spray it to the top of the daily cover to reduce odor and, then, sometimes, we spray a mist over the area of the landfill that's closest to neighbors to ensure odors don't travel," says a LACSD spokesperson.

Since this method doesn't require special equipment or misters, LACSD can incorporate it into a facility's existing water application regimen such as dust control or for moisture addition to windrow composting.

In Olympia, Wash., the Thurston County Department of Water and Waste was one of the first local governments in the area to construct and operate a Subtitle D landfill.

In the early 1990s, a yard waste composting facility also was established inside the landfill property. When neighbors living within a mile radius began complaining of odors, they mistakenly pointed fingers at the composting operation. "We had some leachate coming from the bottom of a windrow," recalls Robert Tiffany, business manager for Skagit Sand and Gravel in Mt. Vernon, Wash., which operates the publicly-owned disposal site.

County officials also approved the construction of a 50-foot-by-50-foot air table to push air through grinded compost via a system of nozzles in the floor. "Even on fresh materials, it blows air through the pile and knocks the smell out immediately," says Bill Townsend, a county engineer. "We run it 15 minutes on and five minutes off."

Another benefit of the air table is its homogenous effect on compost material. "Materials come in wet, dry and every which way. When you force the air through the waste, it balances the moisture content," Townsend adds.

Although odor was emanating from the compost facility, Skagit employees and county officials eventually ferreted out the primary odor source: landfill methane gas.

"We began applying [the odor control agent] to the working face, hoping it would cut down on odors, but without a collection system, the gas overwhelmed everything," Tiffany says.

Thurston County's odor control solution ended up being collaborative: Forgiving weather patterns, less grass waste, the installation of a gas collection system and temporary cover on a major portion of the landfill all played a role in reducing odor.

While solid waste experts agree that odor control agents work well, they assert that the products must be used in conjunction with the best management practices.

"The key to developing an odor control program is to look at the entire picture," advises Ralph Landano of AiReactor, Maspeth, N.Y. "Good house-keeping is critical."

For Taam and SRSWS, the focus of an effective odor abatement program must depend on the efficiency of the site's overall operation.

"We've come a long way and, currently, the regulatory agencies say we're using best management practices," says Taam. "But, we learned through trial and error that, for example, we needed a larger windrow turner and that the size of the windrow makes a major difference. [An odor control program] is the right thing to do and it's cost effective, but it takes time and effort."

So, you think you've got odor problems? There's plenty of stink to go around, and the solid waste industry cannot claim exclusivity in respect to odor nuisances.

It shouldn't surprise you that the same odor control agents you use to combat landfill stench are the same that a large, Midwestern metropolitan zoo employed to tackle the offensive smells emanating from its elephant house. Similarly, managers of chicken farms, onion processing plants and mortuaries each face unique challenges to make their products and workplaces user-friendly.

Take the poor Canadian trucker who transports 250 hogs simultaneously to slaughter houses: He cannot imagine his work environment without using an odor control misting system which he activates during his pork-packed journeys. "The effect of using this system was noticeable immediately," he says. "It greatly reduced the odor created by the hogs." As a result, he reports that complaints from passing motorists and pedestrians were eliminated.

The "fowl" stench of chicken fecal matter not only makes life miserable for chicken farmers, but takes a physical toll on the birds themselves, often rendering them sickly and less stout. Now, chicken growers are spraying the ingestible, USDAapproved product BraVo #1002 directly into the feed to reduce the feces smell.

The result? Plumper, healthier birds and less dependence on fans for air circulation.

In 1996, organizers of the Houston Livestock Show used a deodorizer called "Nok Out," manufactured by Amazing Concepts, Beaverton, Mich., to eliminate odors. "The stuff worked so well that [organizers] reported for the first time in years the smell of animal dung didn't have its usual affect on people passing through the gates," reported a Gannet News Service journalist.

The same product is used by morticians, exterminators, hotel housekeepers and hospital oncologists. Indeed, many mushroom composting facilities, sausage manufacturing plants and even the largest saloon and dance hall in Nebraska all incorporate some form of odor control abatement product in their maintenance programs.

Finally, in addition to the varied and diverse uses of odor control agents, it's also used in the aftermath of fatal human accidents and murders. "As we often say here, if Jeffrey Dahmer was an Ecolo customer, he'd still be in business," quipped Ian Howard of Toronto-based Ecolo Odor Control Systems, in reference to the stench of dead bodies which eventually tipped off authorities to the convicted mass murderer's heinous crimes.

"Don't get me wrong," he adds. "I'm quite happy he wasn't. We like business, but we don't exactly want mass murderers calling."