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Special Report: Landfills

How Operators Found a Solution for Reducing Odors at an Alaskan Landfill

Following a flood of complaints from neighboring cities about an increased odor issue at the Capitol Landfill in Juneau, Alaska, the City and Borough of Juneau has identified the source and measures are being taken to reduce the odor issues.

In a memo from Michele Elfers, chief architect of engineering and public works department for the CBJ, to Jerry Nankervis, chair of the public works and facilities committee, she states that the neighbors’ complaints generally refer to stronger odors coming from the landfill and indicate that the odor is traveling farther to neighborhoods that have not previously been affected.

Waste Management, headquartered in Houston, owns and maintains the Capitol Landfill in Juneau.

Paul Burns, area director for disposal in the Pacific Northwest for Waste Management, says the recent odor issues resulted from the company’s work to improve the collection capacity of its gas system.

“We are always working to improve our operations, and we had been planning for these improvements for some time,” Burns says. “The good news is that installation is nearly complete and will allow for better gas management for the long-term. The eight new wells, added to 30 existing wells, will enhance our system and facility.”

Elfers stated some concern that the odor problem would not be completely resolved.

“Waste Management is currently drilling new wells to capture additional odorous landfill gases, but there is not a guarantee that this will completely solve the odor problem,” she said in her memo. “The landfill mass continues to grow as municipal solid waste (MSW) is deposited and decomposition of the mass will continue to generate gases.”

Elfers also stated that it is anticipated that as the mass of waste grows, odor management challenges also will increase.

“Juneau has the unfortunate characteristics of a high moisture environment which causes rapid decomposition and therefore rapid and elevated release of methane from MSW,” she states in the memo.

Burns says the increased odor from the landfill was a short-term issue connected to the installation of the new wells.

“The installation process required drilling holes into old garbage, so there was a potential for odor. The local weather was also a factor,” he says. “Winter cloud cover and weather inversions limited airflow and trapped odor that normally would dissipate and not be as noticeable.”

Waste Management will continue to ensure the odor issues are at a minimum at this and all of the landfills it manages across the country, according to Burns.

“At this landfill and others throughout the country, our objective is to manage landfill gas in ways that meet environmental requirements and minimize any impact for the community,” he says.

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