Sussex landfill under scrutiny for smell, waste issues

Published 9:55 am Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Urged by residents from surrounding counties to investigate a continuous odor coming from the Sussex County landfill, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in December found several sinkholes releasing gaseous emissions at the top of the landfill and waste-contaminated water flowing beyond the limits of the site’s lined disposal area. Those affected include people who live or work in or travel through northwestern Southampton County.

“For the past couple of years, I have noticed a horrible odor at certain times when the wind is blowing in [the direction of Capron],” said Jim Vick, who works near the small town. “If you travel near [Waverly], the stench is overpowering.”

The DEQ issued a notice of violation later that month against Atlantic Waste Disposal, the operators of the landfill in Waverly, stating that it was in violation of the Waste Management Laws and Regulations. The letter addressed the aforementioned conditions at the facility and cited compliance requirements that AWD was forced to address.

Atlantic Waste Disposal’s Environmental Protection Manager Steve Barten said in response to the VDEQ that the company immediately commenced action to address the leachate seep by setting up pumps for remediation. He disagreed, however, that the sinkholes were an issue because AWD “did not interpret the sinkholes to be a noncompliance or unusual condition that may endanger health of the environment.”

The Department of Environment Quality took additional actions against Atlantic Waste Disposal, citing the landfill’s “ongoing noncompliance with the Virginia Waste Management Act.”

The DEQ’s Emergency Order stated that the landfill is “adversely affecting the environment … resulting from excess heat within” causing odor, instability and increased leachate production.

At January’s Sussex County Board of Supervisors meeting, Atlantic Waste Disposal District Manager Jason Williams said that the company would cap the sinkholes in an attempt to eliminate the odor and that lagoons would be constructed to store leachate. He also added that AWD is unsure of what is causing the elevated temperate at the landfill, as “there are no underground fires present and nothing is in the landfill that shouldn’t be there.”

Atlantic Waste Disposal Area Engineering Manager John Dottellis, also present at the meeting, added that the leachate that made it beyond the lined disposal area had been pumped out. Neither Williams or Dottellis returned messages left at the AWD office in Waverly.

Jeff Turner, riverkeeper of the Blackwater and Nottoway rivers, argued that Atlantic Waste Management did not clean up all of the leachate, and that it has made its way into Southampton County’s waterways.

“There is (sic) so many bad things going on right now I can’t cover all of it,” Turner said. “The leachate coming out of that mountain of filth made its way into the adjacent swamps and then into the Nottoway River. It more than likely will continue to do so regardless of the less-than-adequate measures being taken to halt that flow. There are just too many ways for that stuff to get past those measures. Even more scary is the fact that the toxic soup Sussex is now exporting to our streams and rivers will also end up in the drinking water of some. It’s just a bad scene all around, and I don’t know what the fix is going to be for this major environmental travesty.”

Sussex County Administrator Deborah Davis, who provided the notice of violation, emergency order and Atlantic Waste Disposal’s response, said that the county is monitoring the Department of Environmental Quality’s enforcement actions very closely.

“At the county’s request, representatives from AWD have begun providing monthly updates to the Sussex County Board of Supervisors in open session so board members, citizens and media have current information about the actions AWD is taking to bring the landfill it operates into compliance,” Davis said. “In addition, the county is in nearly daily communication with AWD regarding operations at the landfill and actions AWD is taking that may affect the public and/or are associated with AWD’s compliance activities. The Sussex County Attorney is [also] closely monitoring and reviewing all aspects of the current situation to provide guidance with respect to the county’s legal options with respect to the landfill AWD operates.”

Messages left with VDEQ Piedmont Region Water Compliance and Monitoring Manager Heather Deihls, Air Compliance Manager Dave Robinett and public affairs and media relations director Bill Hayden went unreciprocated, but the department said in the aforementioned emergency order that it will “continue to monitor the landfill to ensure compliance with the Waste Management Act, as well as with the terms of the order.”