As Plain as the Nose on Your Face: Major Clean Air Act Violations at Rhode Island’s Central Landfill
For miles around Rhode Island’s Central Landfill, the air often smells like rotten eggs. In the Landfill, garbage degrades and gives off a gas that is part hydrogen sulfide (which produces the rotten-egg smell), part volatile organic compounds (which can cause cancer), and part methane (a potent greenhouse gas). At well-run landfills, collection systems capture enough of this gas to avoid creating health and environmental hazards. Here in Rhode Island, though, something is wrong.
That’s why yesterday CLF’s Rhode Island office notified companies associated with the Landfill that we intend to sue for violations of the federal Clean Air Act.
After a thorough investigation, we figured out that two companies – Broadrock Gas Services and its subsidiary Rhode Island LFG Genco – are not collecting landfill gas like they are supposed to be doing. Instead, they have allowed part of their gas collection system to become submerged in water. The gas that is not and cannot be captured by these underwater collectors instead escapes to the air we breathe. We can tell for sure that gas is escaping because federal regulations don’t allow the air at a landfill’s surface to contain more than 500 parts per million of methane (above background levels in the air), but readings at the Landfill have been as high as 72,900. By failing to capture harmful landfill gas, the companies have violated the Clean Air Act.
Broadrock and Genco have also been in the news lately for venting landfill gas or some byproduct directly into the atmosphere from a pipe rigged with a broom handle and held together with duct tape. By venting this gas directly from a pipe to the air, the companies have again violated the Clean Air Act.
As the owner of the Landfill, Rhode Island Resource Recovery is legally responsible for Broadrock and Genco’s violations. CLF Rhode Island has also learned that Resource Recovery has been operating the Landfill for the last sixteen years without a federally required permit. By requiring Resource Recovery to get this long-missing permit – which should apply to Broadrock and Genco’s operations too – we hope to bring comprehensive oversight and a clear division of responsibilities to the Landfill.
Now that we’ve notified Broadrock, Genco, and Resource Recovery that we intend to sue – a formal step required by the Clean Air Act before initiating a citizen suit – we have to wait sixty days before filing a complaint in federal court. But we can start negotiating to fix the problem immediately. The recent discovery that Broadrock and Genco have been venting raw landfill gas into the air – and the landfill gas explosion that happened a few days ago – let us know that the situation is truly urgent. And CLF Rhode Island’s notices are a strong first step in getting landfill gas under control here in Rhode Island, stopping the release of harmful pollutants, and making that pervasive rotten-egg smell go away for good.