Landfill odor complaints come in streaks
Someone early Wednesday morning, for instance, complained about a "sickening odor" near the Janesville Mall.
Firefighters responded in case the odor was from a natural gas leak but instead found a "very odiferous" smell coming from the landfill, according to the report. The address is about one-quarter of a mile from the landfill.
The city last year hired a consultant, and workers installed additional, temporary gas wells to suck up the smell. The city trucked in dirt to seal the perimeter to increase the vacuum. At the time, John Whitcomb, operations director, said staff would have to see if those measures were enough.
The city is filling the landfill as quickly as it can so a permanent seal can be installed. Staff will consider putting a permanent cap around the perimeter before the cell is filled. That could happen next year, Whitcomb said.
Residents are smelling the landfill farther away than ever before. Where the odor goes depends on wind, temperature, humidity and other weather factors, said Bill Ruchti, fire department shift commander.
"Normally, it doesn't go much farther than (Highway) 26 and the mall," he said. "Occasionally, it is something further, but not very often. We did have some downtown once this year, which was unusual, but again, (there were) the perfect weather conditions."
The current phase of filling the landfill is causing more problems because of its large size.
Whitcomb associated more recent complaints of odor with a "day-to-day" garbage smell. The garbage is now at a higher elevation so odors tend to carry further.
"We try to work in those lower elevations in the summer months, but we're in this mindset that we want to get that first phase to capacity so we can put the permanent cap on," he said.
The landfill gas smell may crop up if the temporary filtration system goes off-line. It's difficult working around the infrastructure, and an operator recently damaged one of the gas-collection wells, for instance, Whitcomb said.
Because the landfill is within city limits, it's impossible to eliminate all odor complaints, Whitcomb said.
"But we always take these things to heart," he said. "We want to operate that facility in the best manner."
For instance, workers recently determined that a particular type of waste—unwashed bird eggs—was generating an especially noxious smell.
"Based on the complaints, we ceased taking those until (the company's) wash process becomes functional again," Whitcomb said.
"There are some things we can do, some things we can't," he said.
Deputy Fire Chief Jim Jensen said responses to odor complaints haven't shown a dramatic increase. In 2008, the department went on 83 odor investigations. In 2009, that number was 94, and so far this year, 44. How many are associated with the landfill is unknown.
"It seem like it runs in streaks," Jensen said.