News

October 24, 2003

No one at the public hearing claimed they will solve the odor problems around the Cherry Island Marsh landfill, but the Delaware Solid Waste Authority maintained that permanent flares proposed for the site would take care of much of the gases said to be the proximate cause of most of the problems.

The waste authority is seeking a Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control permit to place two large units on the site between Interstate 495 and the Delaware River to burn off gases it is unable, for whatever reasons, to deliver to the Conectiv Energy generating plant on Hay Road.

Stephen Glazer, an environmental engineer hired by the authority to assist it with responding to complaints about odors, testified that each of the two proposed flares could handle up to 3,000 cubic feet of gas a minute. Their total capacity is well in excess of the total amount of gases captured from the mounds of decomposing material and passed through the retrieval system, he said. That ranges from 2,600 cubic feet a minute to 3,400 cubic feet a minute, depending on what measuring system is used.

Moreover, he said, the federal Environmental Protection Agency rates the flares the authority plans to install as 98% efficient.

The devices "will meet demand currently and for a number of years forthcoming," he said.

Although landfill odors have been the object of numerous complaints from residents of Wilmington and southeastern Brandywine Hundred and have generated demands from civic and political leaders that something be done to control them, only three people showed up to give testimony at the hearing on Oct. 23..

Tim Perlow and Lyman Welsh, of the Middle Atlantic Environmental Law Center, representing the Clean Air Council, and John Kearney, an environmental activist, questioned whether the flares themselves would be sources of pollution in terms of the chemicals they would produce and release into the air. Most of the landfill gases they would be called upon to burn would be methane, which is not considered a particularly dangerous pollutant, albeit an obnoxious one.

Perlow said the flares would produce sulfur dioxide and could cause "very serious human-health and environmental damage."

The waste authority already is using smaller flares on a temporary basis, having been allowed by the environmental regulatory agency to do so although, officially, the temporary permit that is required was also the subject of the hearing. Permission to burn the gases while that permit application is pending was granted in August as an emergency measure.

Hearing officer Rod Thompson opened the proceedings by noting that they were limited to providing evidence to enable environmental secretary John Hughes to determine whether to issue the flare permits. He ruled out receiving any testimony about the authority's controversial plan to be allowed to expand the landfill. There are to be one or more hearings on that issue, probably before the turn of the year.

The odor problems and the gas-recovery system said to help alleviate them are actually a present concern. The authority has acknowledged that the landfill is responsible for at least some of the odors which frequently permeate the area, but has pointed out that there are several industrial facilities in the vicinity. All of the others could be contributors, the authority has maintained.

Nevertheless, Glazer testified, the authority has undertaken an extensive program to capture gasses. In 1990, he said, it had 50 wells to do so. In 2002, an additional 63 were installed. Another 25 were installed in June, 2003, and another 34 put in in September. It is planned in 2004 to install a fourth compressor to process the gases for delivery to Conectiv, he said.

The goal, he added, is to deliver all the gasses captured to the utility while having the flares as a standby expedient for use at times when delivery is curtailed or prevented. The self-igniting units, said to roughly resemble tall candlesticks, will turn on "only in the event it is not possible to push all the gas through to Conectiv," he said. "We hope we never have to use them."

The utility company burns the gasses in boilers as part of its electricity-generating operation. Natural gas is also used, but the main fuel is coal.

Drew Sammon, a waste authority official, testified that, until 1995, gas was simply allowed to escape into the atmosphere. It was then that a decision was made to sell it to the Conectiv plant, about a mile away. The gases are captured in wells, piped to the compressing station where they are processed and pumped, also by pipe, to the utility plant. Cereza Energy actually operates the system under contract to the waste authority. .

2003. All rights reserved.

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