Category Archives: Department of Environmental Quality

Dump confirms hot temps since ’16

Advanced Disposal responded to MDEQ’s latest violation letter regarding the High Temperature Landfill (HTLF) event. We have not seen a response from Fortistar, but suspect Advanced is taking the lead on this issue.

View abridged response | View full response

The response letter appears to be written by a different author or editor. The new landfill manager, Mark Johnson, seems to be getting his feet on the ground and taking charge. In the letter, Advanced Disposal takes exception to some of MDEQ’s claims in the Violation Notice.

…we must respectfully disagree with certain statements in the VN [violation notice] regarding when AQD became aware of elevated landfill temperatures, the timeliness of diagnosis and implementation of corrective actions by Arbor Hills, the elevated temperature event not being contained, and ramifications associated with these temperatures

Advanced presents evidence that MDEQ Air Quality Division (AQD) was alerted to high gas collection and control system (GCCS) well temperatures in an isolated section of the landfill in May 2016, understood the cause of the high temperatures and took corrective actions at that time.  

This area of the landfill has exhibited elevated temperatures since May 2016, which AQD has been aware of since at least November 2016 as indicated in AQD’s HOV approval letter to BFI… dated December 2, 2016.

…Arbor Hills also communicated the elevated temperatures seen in gas wells in this area of the landfill are believed to be due to the non-methanogenic degradation of a special waste stream previously accepted at the landfill.

Terminating acceptance of this special waste stream, the source of the elevated temperatures, was a timely corrective action taken by Arbor Hills.

Advanced Disposal believes their corrective actions have been effective in containing the HTLF event as the HTLF event has not spread significantly since 2016.

While the number of wells with elevated temperatures has increased since 2016, the overall bounding area of the elevated temperatures within the landfill has remained essentially unchanged based on the location of wells …

Advanced Disposal downplays the ramifications of the HTLF event is doing to the gas system at the landfill.

Elevated temperatures are just one of many conditions present within the landfill environment that can negatively impact a landfill’s gas collection and control system (GCCS). Arbor Hills replaces GCCS infrastructure when its physical integrity has been compromised. Based on historical gas well replacement data, the frequency of GCCS infrastructure replacement in the elevated temperature area is actually less than seen in other areas of the landfill.

Advanced Disposal is asking for MDEQ’s help in correcting the HTLF event. Advanced has proposed drawing more gas off the wells with the elevated temperatures in an attempt to pull the heat away from this area of the landfill. Normally, gas flows from wells with elevated temperatures are reduced as a precaution to prevent potential fires. Landfill operators can request permission to operate at higher temperatures (called a Higher Operating Value or HOV request) but must demonstrate the higher temperatures do not pose a risk of fire (i.e. – the source of high temp is O2 and/ CO present).

Advanced recently requested MDEQ approval of an HOV for several gas wells in the area of the high temperatures and believes increasing gas flow in this area is necessary to extract heat from this area.

MDEQ initially denied this request but Advanced is asking MDEQ to reconsider.

Arbor Hills needs to open up the valves on the wells in this elevated temperature area to extract the heat, thereby lowering the temperature, consistent with accepted industry best practices for these type events.

The Conservancy Initiative does not pretend to have the answers to these highly technical questions. Stay tuned. What we do know is that all the attention that the community is bringing to this sad landfill is working. THANK YOU!

  • The Conservancy Initiative has filed a “Letter Of Intent” to sue the landfill for violations of the Clean Air Act
  • The management of the landfill has changed
  • The MDEQ has stepped up its efforts
  • Northville Township formed a citizen committee to regularly discuss strategies to deal with the landfill
  • Local legislators are paying attention, even sponsoring legislation
  • We are making regular media appearances to keep the issue fresh

Thank you to everyone who has participated and/or contributed. There is much more to be done. Contact Tracey at if you would like to help.

How to donate

Enforcement notice!

April 18, 2019 enforcement notice

Another day, another violation letter from the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). It seems like the same old dance but the music is definitely speeding up. MDEQ is actually pursuing a monetary penalty with its April 18, 2019 letter to Fortistar Methane Group. This polluter has not paid any fines or penalties for being out of compliance since at least 2015, potentially much longer.

Stipulated Fines & Enforcement Notice

MDEQ recently sent a letter to Fortistar demanding  payment of a $5,000 stipulated penalty. The penalty is for missing a deadline to perform an emission test on the landfill gas turbines by June 1, 2018. Fortistar performed the testing on May 31 and June 1, 2018, but the test was determined to not be representative of normal landfill operations when 25 wells were found to be suspiciously closed just prior to the testing (sounds criminal!). The $5,000 penalty is a stipulated penalty for missing the deadline which was agreed to in a 2015 consent order between Fortistar and the MDEQ.

More importantly, the letter also announces the commencement of escalated enforcement action against Fortistar for violations detailed in previously issued violation letters. It reads, in part: “Additionally, this letter is to advise you of the commencement of escalated enforcement action against the Company. This letter follows the August 30, 2018, February 1, 2019, March 14, 2019 and April 11, 2019, Violation Notices issued by the DEQ, AQD (Air Quality Division) which detailed violations of the Standards of Performance for Municipal Solid Waste Landfills…”

Escalated enforcement actions are a last chance for Fortistar to agree to a consent order with enforceable corrective actions and a monetary penalty. The next step would be turning violations over to the Michigan attorney general. Note: MDEQ is also negotiating escalated enforcement actions with Advanced Disposal, the landfill’s current permit holder.  

The letter also says: “The AQD acknowledges that the Company is in settlement negotiations related to the Finding of Violations issued by the U.S. EPA on September 29, 2016 and June 4, 2018, regarding the sulfur dioxide (SO2) emission limit exceedances at the facility. Given the additional violations referenced above and the ongoing SO2 emission limit exceedances, the AQD is proceeding with this separate enforcement action.”

The MDEQ can be a slow-moving bureaucracy, and even slower when dealing with wayward companies. The outrage the communities surrounding Arbor Hills Landfill are showing is helping the MDEQ to push harder and more aggressively. Our filing a Notice Of Intent to sue Advanced Disposal Services and Fortistar Methane Group is putting pressure on the companies. Citizens can collect fines and damages for violations of the Clean Air Act. Our lawsuit may encourage MDEQ to do more of the same.

We need to keep up the pressure. Join the Conservancy Initiative. Talk to your neighbors. There will be much more information in the near future about fund raising that will be required to support the lawsuit and other efforts.

Donate now

Town hall draws 350+ Nonprofit filing Intent To Sue

WWJ covered the landfill town hall, as did many other media outlets

Over 350 concerned residents attended the Arbor Hills Landfill Town Hall hosted by Sen. Dayna Polehanki and Rep. Matt Koleszar. The Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality sent specialists to quell residents’ health concerns regarding issues with asbestos, hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide and the recent ‘fire’ at Arbor Hills Landfill in Washtenaw County.

The Conservancy Initiative president, Tracey Birkenhauer, announced the nonprofit is filing an intent to sue Advanced Disposal Services and Fortistar Methane Group for violations of the Clean Air Act. This drew massive applause and helped to break up the monotonous event.

View the Intent To Sue

Scott Miller, MDEQ air quality supervisor, said air quality tests conducted at the landfill are evaluated for methane, hydrogen sulfide, and volatile organic compounds, in an effort to help reduce potential hazardous air odors and to bring the landfill within compliance of state and federal regulations.

“Based on the data collected, health based air standards are being met offsite,” Miller said. “Regular testing of emissions from the landfill flares and gas-to-energy turbine plant is also occurring. Those violations will be resolved in the Escalated Enforcement Action MDEQ has taken with Advanced Disposal Services.”

The MDEQ has admitted they have never conducted a study to determine health effects for prolonged exposure. They also have never investigated the health effects from the cocktail of multiple pollutants, emissions and particulates in the air. Notice how they never discuss water and soil testing or contamination, which are valid concerns, especially at nearby Ridge Wood Elementary and Salem Elementary.

Attendees were disappointed and many were infuriated with the format that forced them to write questions on cards. Attendees were not allowed to speak during the event. Those who tried to shout questions or comments were silenced.

An MDEQ moderator read some of the questions but most went unanswered. The event was scheduled for an hour and a half. The MDEQ was given a half hour of that time for a presentation.

More coverage

Elevated temperature landfill event further degrading gas system

The MDEQ issued additional Notices of Violation (NOVs) to both Advanced Disposal and Fortistar Methane Group. For those keeping track, that makes at least 9 Violations already this year. This week’s violations seem more serious.

Fortistar violation  |  Advanced violation

The violations allege:An Elevated Temperature Landfill (ETLF) event is negatively impacting the landfill Gas Collection and Control System (GCCS) and exacerbating the odor problem at the landfill. [Advanced Disposal and Fortistar] failed to adequately diagnose the problem and has yet to fully implement corrective actions that are required to contain the event.

EPA regulations require landfill operators to monitor gas collection well-head conditions (pressure, temperature, O2 content, etc) to control landfill conditions and protect against landfill fires. Advanced Disposal’s gas collection system consists of over 400 collection wells. Actions are required whenever well head gas temperatures exceed 131 F and/or O2 levels exceed 5%. It is not uncommon for an isolated well to exceed these parameters for short durations. Normally, corrective actions are quickly implemented and are effective. 

ETLF events are rare and are not well understood. An ETLF event is not isolated to one or two wells; it can involve a significant section of the landfill. Typical problems associated with elevated temperatures in landfills include: damage to the landfill gas and leachate collection system (they are plastic pipe); the potential for damage to the liner; increase in leachate leakage; landfill sink holes and gas bubbles under the cover system. All of these symptoms can result in increased odors and may be responsible for the increased odors we are experiencing. 

The MDEQ appears to be encouraged this rare landfill condition was diagnosed by the landfill’s new manager, who recently took over. 

In addition to the violations, the MDEQ released a comprehensive report of the inspections conducted at the landfill during the first quarter this year. This report documents the basis for violations issued earlier this year. The MDEQ is using our odor complaint data to make a point. Odor complaints are increasing (even though the MDEQ still doesn’t count every odor report in its tally).

Monthly odor complaints recorded by MDEQ

The inspection report is the first we learn that the MDEQ has required Advanced to submit a Fugitive Dust Control Plan due to the track out on roads outside the landfill. Advanced has committed to adding rumble strips at the exit of the landfill to shake dust/dirt from trucks leaving and purchasing/using a new road sweeper. We should keep an eye out for this as the weather improves.

We will be given an update on the status of the landfill and have a chance to ask questions during an informational town hall scheduled for 7 – 8:30 PM on April 16 at Northville High School. Northville Township Supervisor Bob Nix, MDEQ representatives, state Sen. Dayna Polehanki and state Rep. Matt Koleszar plus others will be present. The Conservancy Initiative President, Tracey Birkenhauer, will speak at the beginning of the town hall as well.

Please plan to attend to show these officials how important this issue is to us. If you have a question, please write it on a 3 x 5 card which will be collected for the group to read and answer as time permits.

We are also hosting a bake sale fundraiser during the event. Drop off your baked goods from 4-5:30 p.m. at Northville High School. We will sell the goodies before, during and after the town hall. We will also accept cash and check donations. Make checks payable to The Conservancy Initiative, a 501c3 nonprofit corporation.

Illegal vents, lost asbestos documented

Advanced Disposal and Fortistar Methane Group’s responses to March 14, 2019 violation notices highlight many areas of concern, including illegal vents, asbestos they can’t locate and inadequate record-keeping. Below is a summary of the responses.

Read the responses: Advanced Disposal | Fortistar Methane Group

Most importantly, the LANDFILL STILL STINKS and continues to operate out of compliance with unresolved consent orders from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). The MDEQ and EPA are focusing a significant amount of their resources on the landfill, conducting inspections, issuing violations and fines, etc., in an attempt to correct the problems.

An informational town hall will be held from 7 – 8:30 PM on April 16 at Northville High School. Northville Township Supervisor Bob Nix, MDEQ representatives, state Sen. Dayna Polehanki and state Rep. Matt Koleszar plus others will be present. Please plan on attending to show these officials how important this issue is to us.

Asbestos-Related Items (1 – 3)

The landfill is required to keep track of areas where asbestos waste is buried so that precautions (including prior notification of the MDEQ) can be taken if these areas need to be excavated in the future. Advanced Disposal response:

“In June of 2018, the facility upgraded its recordkeeping and asbestos program … Prior to this time, locations of asbestos disposal areas cannot be located”

Excavation in asbestos disposal areas require 45 days’ prior notification to the MDEQ (to allow MDEQ to be present and inspect the excavation). Since Advanced doesn’t know where it buried the asbestos, Advanced is treating the entire landfill as an asbestos area and notifying MDEQ of all excavation. In our opinion, this is a waste of resources.

Landfill Cover (Items 4 – 7)

The landfill must maintain a cover (synthetic or earthen) that prevents landfill gas from escaping. The most significant item in this section is item 4. Advanced installed a passive vent which allows landfill gas to vent directly. This can be a source of odors. In our opinion, Advanced does not appear concerned about this illegal vent in their response:

“Arbor Hills plans to connect this vent to the active vacuum as part of the 2019 gas construction activities.”

We think MDEQ should have been notified of this illegal vent.  Are there other illegal vents? Have odors been tested downwind of the vent? Why can’t it be connected to the gas collection system immediately or at least give a completion date? It just seems like Advanced is not taking this very seriously.

Item 5 – Advanced is not keeping good records of its quarterly methane scans. These scans are used to test for leaks in the landfill cover.

“Quarterly surface methane scans failed to indicate if areas of distressed vegetation, cracks, or seeps in the cover were investigated …”

It looks like Advanced’s response is simply to regurgitate the regulations, claim they are in compliance, and not commit to making any changes. Making the improvements the MDEQ is suggesting would not be difficult.  

Item 6 – Advanced is not addressing problems found during periodic inspections of the landfill cover.

“Failed to correct issues identified in landfill cover integrity inspections since some areas show up in subsequent months.”

Advanced claims the repeat issues are due to weather concerns preventing repairs. There is no mention that the repairs have been made or will be made.

 “Better documentation and record keeping of cover repairs will be performed in the future.”

Gas Collection Control System (GCCS) (Items 8 – 15)

A system of gas wells and piping is used to collect landfill gas and direct it to either a flare or the gas-to-energy plant where it is oxidized. The GCCS must be maintained. Flows must be balanced and condensate (water) must be removed. Since the landfill is continuously changing, the GCCS must also change with conditions at the landfill.  Advanced Disposal holds the permit for the GCCS and has ultimate responsibility. Advanced Disposal hires Fortistar to operate the GCCS.

The EPA and MDEQ have prescribed parameters which must be followed for the proper operation of the GCCS. (Items 8 – 10)

“The NSPS requires that exceedances of the … wellhead monitoring parameters (temperature, oxygen, and pressure) are corrected within 15 days, the GCCS expanded within 120 days or an alternative timeline (ACT) request be submitted. The Company failed to be timely with ACT requests. This is a reoccurring problem.”

Advanced Disposal disagrees. It seems to us that the landfill operators should be able to live up to these well-communicated deadlines and should be in constant communication with the MDEQ to ensure this is not a problem.

Methane may be migrating outside the landfill (item 11). Gas probes have detected readings above the Lower Explosive Limit (LEL) along the eastern boundary of the unlined Arbor Hills East Landfill.

The Company has failed to implement a proper landfill gas collection system design to mitigate the subsurface migration of methane. Subsurface methane concentrations at perimeter monitoring probes have been exceeding regulatory limits since 2003.

Advanced does not dispute this finding but also is not acting very quickly. Advanced is hiring a contractor to design a system and will implement corrective actions later this year.

Item 12 may be the issue we should follow closely. The MDEQ is suggesting the gas collection system is flooded or water-logged and this is impairing its ability to capture landfill gas.

“A substantially flooded well will be limited in its radius of influence and this will lead to gaps in gas collection coverage.”

Advanced is committing to installing 40 new condensate pumps and significant piping to collect and remove condensate from the gas wells. This appears to be an attempt to dewater the gas system and improve gas collection. This could result in a significant improvement in the gas system’s efficiency and reduce odors from the landfill. A potential problem is how Advanced handles the condensate (smelly water). Past MDEQ inspections have found their practices with the condensate could be a source of odors.

Items 13 and 14 – Advanced must maintain a Malfunction Abatement Plan (MAP) to ensure that landfill gas is directed to a treatment system or flare except during periods of start-up, shutdown or malfunction. Malfunctions are limited to one hour events for control devices. 

“[Advanced Disposal] has failed to identify [flare] blowers as major replacement parts that should be maintained in inventory for quick replacement in the event they failed. This contributed to the 4+ months it took to resolve a major malfunction of the blower system that feeds landfill gas to the flares lasted.”

“There were several incidents in 2018/2019 that either due to problems at the AHE (Arbor Hills Energy, aka Fortistar) facility, construction downtime, blower problems or issues with liquid in the knockout tank preventing gas from reaching the flares that lasted longer than one hour.”

Advanced continues to dispute these findings. Advanced states that its current flaring capacity is only 7,000 standard cubic feet per minute (SCFM) but requires 12,000 SCFM. The system must have some adequate spare parts and back-up power supply to ensure there is always enough capacity.  It is unclear if the back-up power and spare parts are in place.  We find it alarming that Advanced does not appear to be accepting their basic responsibility of preventing odors at all times.

Areas of Concern

At the end of the Notice of Violation, the MDEQ noted some areas of concern which were not violations. Below are comments on several of the areas of concern in Advanced Disposal’s response:

  1. Item 4 – Advanced Disposal seems to admit to violations for not covering asbestos waste daily.
  2. Item 7 – Advanced states that flaring capacity is currently only 7,000 scfm and needs to be 12,000 scfm.
  3. Item 8 –  MDEQ requested an update on “Arbor Hills Landfill Operations Evaluation Report” prepared by Clarke M. Lindell, P.E. dated May 16, 2018. The report was reviewed with the MDEQ during their inspection. Advanced Disposal’s update:

“… many recommendations were addressed.”   It seems like Advanced is basically telling MDEQ “mind your own business!”

More violations for Arbor Hills Landfill

Advanced Disposal’s Arbor Hills Landfill in Washtenaw County has received two more violations from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). Arbor Hills Landfill has received seven MDEQ violations already this year.

Advanced Disposal violation

Fortistar Methane Group violation

A violation was issued to Advanced Disposal Services, the landfill’s owner and permit holder. Fortistar Methane Group, known locally as Arbor Hills Energy, also received a violation. Responses from these polluters are due to the MDEQ by April 4, 2019.

Landfill gas is actively collected, treated, and processed at a gas-to-energy turbine plant adjacent to the landfill. The plant is owned and operated by Fortistar Methane Group.

According to Advanced Disposal’s violation notice, “The Company is adding sewage sludge and other types of wastewater sludge material to Cell 4E… This cell is not controlled by a landfill gas collection system that has been activated, so calculations need to be done to show that the percent moisture by weight expected in the waste mass to which liquid is being added is less than 40 percent. (Note: Recent Company disclosure that as much as 27 feet of leachate was sitting on parts of the landfill liner for Cell 4 suggests the waste mass may have become saturated. This could greatly accelerate the generation of landfill gas in a location that is not yet controlled by the gas well collection system.)”

Leachate is a landfill waste product created when rainwater flows through decomposing waste and picks up toxic contaminants. The creation of leachate, sometimes called “garbage soup” or “garbage juice,” presents a major threat to the current and future quality of ground water. A release of leachate to the ground water may present several risks to human health and the environment.

The violation notice also says a leachate seep has been present at the landfill since at least May 2018 and has yet to be resolved.

The notices of violation are based on physical observations made during site inspections and records provided immediately following. The violations are significant.

According to their violation, Advanced Disposal Services is not handling asbestos properly. Warning signs are not posted, mapping of locations containing asbestos are not complete, the MDEQ’s Air Quality Division is not being notified as required prior to digging in asbestos areas. The Air Quality Division does not believe the landfill is covering asbestos daily. Uncovered asbestos can become airborne, impacting the community downwind.

According to the violation, “Based on the three (3) visits to the active asbestos disposal areas, there is a concern that the asbestos waste is not being covered with soil each evening on days after a shipment has been received. Rather, it is suspected that it is being done when a disposal pit is full which can take days or weeks. The disposal area on top of the landfill is highly exposed to wind and any asbestos from a broken bag could be quickly blown downwind. It also could represent a hazard to workers servicing nearby landfill gas wells or truck drivers in the area.”

Landfill cover is not being maintained.

Numerous problems are cited with the landfill cover the quarterly methane scans which are required to verify the landfill cover is doing its job (providing a seal on the top of the landfill). Obvious issues which are identified on inspection reports are not corrected. MDEQ does not believe the quarterly methane scans are being adequately performed. These scans should be used to identify and correct problems with the landfill cover and methane leaks.

Gas collection & control system (GCCS) non-compliant

Environmental regulations require the gas system be properly designed and maintained to handle water/liquid leachate in gas wells. Leachate levels in a significant number of the gas wells (215) cover over 50% of the perforated screen (area available for gas flow). Several wells are mostly saturated or completely blocked with leachate. The leachate is blocking the gas system from doing its job – the landfill is water-logged. The Air Quality Division presents a significant amount of data to make their point. The Air Quality Division verbally suggested the landfill will be “dewatered” in the future and they believe this will improve gas removal.

The MDEQ also points out that the landfill operators are ignoring data taken at each well in the gas system monthly. Regulations require adjustments must be made to keep wellhead pressures at a vacuum. If conditions cannot be quickly corrected, the MDEQ must be notified and Alternate Compliance Timing (ACT) must be submitted. Advanced Disposal/Fortistar are not following these required practices – this is a continuing problem which has been cited before.

Flare (Advanced Disposal)

The MDEQ states there were several incidents in which landfill gas has not been able to reach the flare for more than one hour. MDEQ verbally confirmed that the flaring capacity is still only about 5,000 standard cubic feet per minute while about 12,000 standard cubic feet per minute of landfill gas is produced at times.

The MDEQ’s Air Quality Division has requested an update on past violation notices related to Arbor Hills Landfill’s flares.

Smelly stuff

  • The MDEQ noted odorous leachate seeps and the portable frac tanks which have been present since at least May 2018
  • New leachate seeps, gas bubbles and an active landfill vent which is venting directly to atmosphere near six mile road were identified. Gas is being generated but is not being removed by the GCCS.
  • Odorous compost is being received and stored – at a minimum, it should be quickly processed but a company concerned with odors would reject these types of loads.
  • Highly odorous piles of contaminated soil are being stored, uncovered at the top of the landfill awaiting use at daily cover. The use of a cheap cover material must trump odor concerns.
  • Advanced is accepting sewer sludge into cell 4. The sludge contains a high level of liquids which will accelerate gas generation. This portion of the landfill has no gas collection.

“Liquid levels for the gas wells listed in Attachment (2) raises concerns about the functionality of these gas wells. Many of the wells listed also exhibit high methane concentrations (over 55%) along with notes indicating that the valve is 100% open. This is a strong indication that liquid levels are impeding gas collection. In addition, even if the wells with high liquid levels appear to be productive currently, the long-term presence of liquids can contribute to fouling of the stone and well screen, reducing the effectiveness of these wells over time. The Company should immediately begin evaluating the gas wells listed in Attachment (2) to determine which wells warrant the installation of pumps or to identify other appropriate corrective actions.

“The site visit conducted on March 12, 2019, identified new sources of odors at the facility in addition to the TS-01 seep and associated odorous “frac” tanks. These include a new leachate seep located just west of the TS-01 seep with a leachate creek draining down towards the base of the landfill, and two highly odorous landfill gas areas coming out of the ground located above the north gee-liner. Odors were also coming from a passive landfill gas vent located near Six ­Mile road. In addition, there was a probable landfill gas bubble under the gee-liner on the northwest side of the landfill, a much larger gas bubble under the north gee-liner on the liner’s west side, and a surface landfill gas seep just above the TS-01 area. Please provide an update on how the Company will be dealing with these new areas of concern.

Advanced Disposal violation response

Advanced Disposal Services’ latest violation response highlights concerns for their compliance with regulations enforced by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.  Arbor Hills Landfill has received three violations from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality already this year.

View violations

The response reads: “Unfortunately (and as previously communicated to the DEQ), during commissioning in early December, issues with the blowers became evident – they could not sustain operation at normal load and this concern was promptly communicated to Lone Star Blowers, Inc., the blower manufacturer. Since that time, Arbor Hills has been diligently trying to work through the issue with Lone Star. As it became evident to Advanced Disposal that Lone star was not going to be capable of timely remedying the blower issues to satisfy the intended design standard, Advanced Disposal has now had to elect an alternative manufacturer for a permanent resolution but continues to devote substantial resources to obtain as much operational capability on interim basis within the shortest possible time frame.”

According to The Conservancy Initiative’s attorney, the company should have made itself aware of the condition of the blowers much earlier, at the time they were negotiating actions needed to comply with the EPA consent order. 

The response says: “The work originally initiated by Arbor Hills in November 2018 to replace the existing blowers was to provide 12,000 scfm (standard cubic feet per minute) of design blower capacity. This can only be achieved through matching the blowers and control system so as not to inhibit the performance of any one blower in the arrangement. These are complex systems that require harmonization for efficient landfill gas collection and we have not identified any viable alternative other than asking a new vendor to provide new blowers that will be several months in the making. In the interim Arbor Hills is assembling as much infrastructure as it can to ensure as much back up landfill gas collection as possible. In this regard, it should be noted that the conveyance system upgrades that have been made (24 inch and 36-inch header) have achieved the objective of improving landfill gas collection throughout the landfill footprint.”

Given the nature of issues identified now and previously, there is a concern that the company may not be adequately solving the issues. While they have not stated why they haven’t correctly addressed these issues, it may be likely that the cost of these improvements could be a driver.   As long as sanctions, including potential fines, are less than potential costs of redesigning the landfill gas collection system, there is concern that they will not have the incentive needed to address the issue comprehensively.

Our attorney has cautioned that we don’t have enough information about company decision-making to know for sure whether it is incompetence or indifference that keeps causing problems. From a legal perspective, however, it doesn’t matter.

Enforcement notice!

After years of egregious mismanagement, Advanced Disposal Services (ADS) has received an enforcement notice for failing to remedy issues at Arbor Hills Landfill. Read the enforcement notice.

These issues, detailed in violation notices, include gas, garbage and compost odors that have led to thousands of odor complaints in the last three years. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) issued the enforcement notice on Jan. 24, 2019. It’s addressed to the landfill’s general manager, Bob Walls.

The notice reads: “This letter is to advise you of the commencement of escalated enforcement action against Advanced Disposal Services Arbor Hills Landfill, Inc. (Company). This letter follows the February 2, 2016; March 15, 2016; April 29, 2016; November 8, 2016; December 14, 2016; February 6, 2018; August 31, 2018; October 12, 2018; January 14, 2019; and January 17, 2019 Violation Notices (VNs) issued by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Air Quality Division (AQD) and Waste Management and Radiological Protection Division (WMRPD).”

Since 2016, Advanced Disposal has received 10 violations for mismanaging Arbor Hills Landfill in Washtenaw County. Fortistar Methane Group has received its own violations dating back to 2015. Republic Services also received violations for failing to maintain and manage its gas collection system. Republic no longer has an interest in Arbor Hills Landfill.

The MDEQ alleges that Advanced Disposal Services’ various operational failures have resulted in air quality and solid waste violations including, but not limited to, nuisance odors as detailed in the violation notices. The MDEQ has asked the company to immediately undertake all actions necessary to resolve all violations identified in the enforcement notice and the violation notices listed above.

The MDEQ is providing Advanced Disposal Services with an opportunity to formally resolve these violations through the entry of a legally enforceable agreement that includes a compliance program and payment of an appropriate monetary penalty (in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.) Deadline is Feb. 8, 2019.

The actions the MDEQ wants them to take include:

  • Shut down compost operation
  • Reduce amount of garbage they accept daily
  • Stop accepting certain types of smelly garbage
  • Install odor monitoring system so as trucks pull in, if garbage is too smelly, they are turned away
  • Reduce size of open face where garbage is added daily

Advanced Disposal Services can either agree to make the changes and accept the fine or they can try to negotiate a different solution. The other option they have is to refuse to comply with these actions. If this happens, then the MDEQ will turn this over to the Attorney General to take them to court to force them to take these actions. Both are considered long-term actions. If it goes to court, it will be years before it is settled.

Residents are invited to an information meeting on March 20 regarding Fortisar Methane Group’s permit change request. Residents can ask questions about the landfill, the enforcement notice and any general questions at this meeting.  

Arbor Hills Landfill was opened in 1970 by Holloway Sand and Gravel.  There have been odor episodes and plenty of other issues throughout the years but residents say it’s never been as bad as it is now. Plymouth, Northville, Salem and Novi residents submitted over 2,000 odor complaints in 2018 alone.

Arbor Hills Landfill in Salem Twp. is permitted by the MDEQ. Waste is delivered to the landfill by both haul and transfer loads. According to its website, Arbor Hills accepts municipal solid waste, construction and demolition debris, municipal and industrial sludges, friable and non-friable asbestos and residual wastes. The facility currently uses tipper service to assist with unloading of waste trailers. 

Arbor Hills Landfill is included in the state of Michigan County Solid Waste Plans, has contracts with residual waste generators in both Michigan and surrounding states and accepts waste from Advanced Disposal subsidiaries and third-party companies, according to its website.

Another odor violation for Arbor Hills Landfill

Advanced Disposal Services has yet another odor violation to add to its collection. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) issued the violation notice to Advanced Disposal Services, Arbor Hills Landfill Inc. on Jan. 17, 2019. This is the fifteenth violation The Conservancy Initiative has uncovered in its investigation dating back to 2015.

Read the violation

On Janaury 4, 2019, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Air Quality Division (AQD), conducted an odor evaluation and complaint investigation as part of an ongoing investigation of longstanding periodic complaints regarding nuisance odors alleged to be the result of operations at the Advanced Disposal Services, Arbor Hills Landfill Inc. (ADS) located at 10690 West Six Mile Road, Northville, Michigan. (Note: the landfill is in Salem Twp., Washtenaw County but has a Northville mailing address.)

According to the violation notice, “The purpose of this investigation is to determine ADS compliance with the requirements of the federal Clean Air Act; Part 55, Air Pollution Control, and Part 115, Solid Waste Management, of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994 PA 451, as amended (Act 451); and the administrative rules promulgated pursuant to these parts; and to investigate recent complaints which we received on January 4, 2019, regarding foul odors attributed to ADS operations.”

During the investigation performed on January 4, 2019, AQD staff detected a distinct and definite objectionable landfill compost/garbage/gas odor along Napier Road before W. Six Mile Road and in the residential area on the southwest side of the Steeplechase Subdivision, specifically Briar Ridge Lane, downwind of the facility.

The observed landfill odor is a violation of Rule 901 (b). The Rule 901(b) violation also constitutes a violation of Rule 433(1)(c) since the landfill odor generated by the facility created a nuisance odor beyond the property boundary, according to the notice.

Advanced Disposal Services must submit a written response to this violation notice by Feb. 11, 2019. The written response should include: the dates the violation occurred; an explanation of the causes and duration of the violation; whether the violation is ongoing; a summary of the actions that have been taken and are proposed to be taken to correct the violation and the dates by which these actions will take place; and what steps are being taken to prevent a reoccurrence.

Who to contact
Scott Miller, MDEQ Air Quality Supervisor
(517) 416-5992 or

Bob Walls, Arbor Hills Landfill general manager
888-443-1717 or

Arbor Hills Landfill gets violation for gas wells

Advanced Disposal’s Arbor Hills Landfill received yet another violation from the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality on Jan. 14, 2019 for failing to properly maintain landfill gas wells. In fact, 19 of 31 wells identified were out of compliance.

Read the violation

Arbor Hills Landfill is Advanced Disposal Service’s only landfill in Michigan and it’s Washtenaw County’s only operating landfill. Most of the waste at Arbor Hills – about 90% – is imported from nearby counties and states, according to data from Washtenaw County.

According to the violation notice: “Advanced Disposal Services -Arbor Hills Landfill Inc. is aware that the NSPS (Standards of Performance for New Sources ) 60.755(a)(5) allows a facility to request an ACT (alternative compliance timeline) for correcting exceedances of GCCS (gas collection and control system) well operating parameters. The deadline for submitting an alternative request is 15 days from the exceedance. Alternative timeline requests received outside of the 15 days may be denied by AQD (MDEQ Air Quality Division). Facilities should include any denied request in their semi-annual deviation reports.”

This is the fourteenth violation for Arbor Hills Landfill we’re aware of, going back to September 2015 when they received a violation for sulfur dioxide emissions. Arbor Hills has received violations from the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Learn more

Mich. waste management legislation update

Republican state Rep. Rob VerHeulen introduced a bill to amend Michigan’s Natural Resources & Environmental Protection Act.

On Nov. 7, 2018, House Bill 6483 was introduced and referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.  The bill description reads: “Environmental protection; solid waste; management of waste materials; establish, provide regulatory oversight of composting, and establish funding for programs. ”

This is just the start of the legislative process.

Most of Michigan’s environmental acts were consolidated into the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, 1994, PA 451, as amended (Act 451). Act 451 is organized into sections called “Parts.”

The Conservancy Initiative works primarily with the Air Quality and Waste Management divisions of the MDEQ as we attempt to reduce and correct issues with pollution from Arbor Hills Landfill in Salem Twp., Washtenaw County.

The Office of Regulatory Reinvention maintains the Rules promulgated under Michigan statutes. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality administered rules organized by MDEQ divisions are on the Michigan Environmental Rules page.

Questions or concerns?
Contact Liz Browne, the Special Projects Administrator of the Waste Management & Radiological Protection division of the MDEQ.
517-284-6552  |

Related links

Violation response

Advanced Disposal Services denies responsibility for odors once again in its response to the Aug. 31, 2018 violation notice issued by the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality.

Read the response

The MDEQ issued the violation notice on Aug. 31, 2018 for odors detected by MDEQ staff on Aug. 23.  The company the dump hired to monitor odors, RK & Associates, did not detect significant odors on Aug. 23.

Advanced Disposal claims they have done more than enough to remedy odors.

The response says: “The data illustrates that ADS has corrected the original source of the odor complaints — deficiencies in the infrastructure of the landfill gas collection and control system. This has left incidental odors from waste disposal operations and composting as the remaining potential sources for any detectable odors. In addition to the improvement in landfill gas collection efficiency, Arbor Hills Landfill has also aggressively implemented measures to mitigate odors associated with waste disposal operations as well as its compost operation.”

Advanced also questioned the MDEQ’s standards.

“Rule 901, in turn, generally prohibits the emission of an air contaminant in quantities that cause, among other things, an”unreasonable interference with the comfortable enjoyment of life and property.” This standard essentially restates the common law definition of “nuisance” and, therefore, must be considered in light of Michigan case law elucidating that concept. A nuisance is a non-trespassory invasion of another’s interest in the private use and enjoyment of land. See Adkins v. Thomas Solvent Co., 440 Mich. 293, 302 (1992). A defendant is not subject to liability in nuisance
unless the plaintiff proves each of the following elements:
1. the other has property rights and privileges in respect to the use or enjoyment interfered with;
2. the invasion results insignificant harm;
3. the actor’s conduct is the legal cause of the invasion; and
4. the invasion is either (i) intentional and unreasonable, or (ii) unintentional and otherwise actionable under the rules governing liability for negligent, reckless, or ultrahazardous conduct.

“To properly establish a Rule 901 violation, there must be showing not only of ‘significant harm’ resulting from the odor but also a showing that ADS acted unreasonably in its operation of the landfill. Further, under Michigan common law, an actionable nuisance exists only to the extent that defendant’s conduct was “unreasonable” in light of apublic-policy assessment of the conduct’s overall value to society. See Adams v. Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co., 237 Mich. App. 51, 67 (1999). Accordingly, any intrusion of odors into residential areas must be balanced against the degree to which the Arbor Hills landfill is socially valuable.”


Arbor Hills Landfill gets yet another violation

Arbor Hills Landfill was issued a major violation on Aug. 31, 2018 for failing to control odors. This is the second citation for violating federal environmental laws this year.

Read the violation

The Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality conducted an investigation on Aug. 23, 2018 after receiving odor complaints. The complaints started at 7 a.m. and continued until after 10 p.m. The 30 odor descriptions varied from rubber burning to raw sewage to rotten eggs to pungent trash.

Our sources say the nasty odors likely resulted from the 200 tons of Detroit sewage sludge that Arbor Hills Landfill accepted shortly before this incident.

The Air Quality Division staff detected “a distinct and definite objectionable landfill garbage odor in the residential area on the south side of Napier Road downwind of the facility,” according to the violation notice.

Through the time of their inspection on Aug. 23, MDEQ had received nearly 900 odor complaints regarding Arbor Hills Landfill in 2018, according to the violation notice.

Stop Arbor Hills launched The Odor Report earlier this year to track and report nuisance odors. The number of odor reporters and reports increased dramatically with the single system and process. Arbor Hills Landfill received 522 odor complaints in 2016 and 280 in 2017. As of Sept. 17, more than 1,000 odor complaints have been submitted this year.

“In response to complaints, DEQ staff has conducted numerous on-site inspections and complaint investigations in the immediate area,” says the violation notice. “This recent observation of landfill garbage odors in violation of Rule 901 and Rule 433(1)(c), indicates additional measures are needed to reduce odors from the landfill.”

The dump’s owner, Advanced Disposal Services (ADS), must send a response to this violation notice by Sept. 24, 2018. The response is supposed to include steps to fix ongoing odor issues. The last time the dump received a 901 violation, on Feb. 6, 2018, they denied responsibility and blamed developers in lieu of providing a comprehensive remediation plan.

Feb. 6 violation  |  Violation response

Odor consultant RK & Associates is still conducting odor evaluations. Read odor evaluations

Advanced Disposal Services claims it has spent $8 million improving its gas collection system but the company has not shown  documentation confirming this. Read the gas collection system construction update from Advanced Disposal Services.

Even after all of the violations and 1,000+ odor complaints in 2018 alone, the operators of Arbor Hills Landfill still maintain they are going to expand.

The MDEQ has published an action summary from May-Aug. 2018. Read the summary


Materials Management legislation update

See the update below from Northville Twp. Supervisor Bob Nix regarding the status of Michigan legislation as a result of the Solid Waste and Sustainability Advisory Panel (SWSAP).

Materials management legislation update

Materials Management Plan legislation, 6th draft. See page 165-166 for text regarding adjacent communities. Do you have thoughts or ideas regarding this legislation? Contact us at

Who to contact
  • Larry Bean, MDEQ –
  • Scott Miller, MDEQ –
  • Kenneth Ruffatto, EPA lead –
  • Sen. Patrick Colbeck, –
  • Rep. Jeff Noble –
  • Salem Twp. Supervisor Gary Whittaker –
  • Northville Twp. Supervisor Bob Nix –

Related links

Violation response

Advanced Disposal Services, owner of Arbor Hills Landfill, denies responsibility for the 901 air quality violation issued on Feb. 6, 2018 by the Michigan Dept. Of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

View the violation response

In its response to the violation, Advanced Disposal Services blames the proximity of homes to the landfill.

“Given the proximity of the homes to the landfill and the nature of Arbor Hills’ business, it would not be unexpected if occasional odors drift off-site.  But these odors, incidental to even the best run landfills, do not constitute a violation of Rule 901(b).”

Advanced Disposal adds:

“It cannot be ignored that when landfill operations began at Arbor Hills, the area was largely rural and sparsely populated. Arbor Hills cannot be held to unachievable standards because developers have decided to build densely-spaced, upscale residential homes increasingly closer — and immediately downwind — of the landfill.”

Moreover, the fact that housing developments, despite the proximity of the landfill, continue to be built at increasing price points is empirical evidence that Arbor Hills is not creating odors that result in an ‘unreasonable interference with the comfortable enjoyment of life and property’ within the neighboring communities.”


Dump Gets Odor Violation

On Feb. 6, 2018, Arbor Hills Landfill received a 901 violation for failing to comply with the requirements of the federal Clean Air Act and other acts and rules.

As the violation notice states, this is a direct result of odor complaints sent by the communities surrounding the dump.

In response to odor complaints submitted from January 16-18, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Division conducted an odor evaluation at Arbor Hills Landfill on Jan. 25, 2018 to determine if the facility was in compliance. AQD staff performed the investigation. Read the MDEQ evaluation

They detected a “distinct and definite objectionable landfill odor in the residential area on North Napier Road downwind of the facility.” They determined it to be a Level 3 on the 5-level MDEQ odor scale.

The odor was strong enough to violate Rule 901(b), which also constituted a violation of Rule 433(1)(c) since the landfill odor created a nuisance odor beyond the landfill’s property boundary.

As of Jan. 25, 2018, the MDEQ had received 71 odor complaints from December and January alone. The MDEQ conducted numerous on-site inspections and complaint investigations in the area.

The most recent observation “appears to indicate the solid waste and compost handling or management are inadequate.”

Advanced Disposal Services has until Feb. 28, 2018 to respond to the violation notice with an explanation, a summary of actions and steps to prevent a recurrence.

Special landfill mtg

Northville Twp. held its first special Arbor Hills Landfill meeting on Sept. 6, 2017. It drew one of the largest crowds in Northville Twp. history.

Larry Bean and Scott Miller from the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality gave presentations and answered some questions about the Washtenaw County dump. View the MDEQ action summary and Arbor Hills Landfill status update.

Many residents weren’t allowed to ask questions before Township Supervisor Bob Nix  ended the meeting. Stop Arbor Hills was listed on the agenda but we were not allowed to speak.

Bean confirmed the dump is currently about 300 feet tall and it has 100 feet more to grow. It has 10-13 years of capacity at the current rate of dumping before it’s full.

The old east part of the landfill has polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) in the leachate (contaminated liquid) that can’t flow directly into the sewer system so they pump and haul that leachate to a pre-treatment facility in Detroit. The west part of the landfill doesn’t have PCBs and is allowed to discharge into the Ypsilanti Waste Water Treatment sewer system, Bean said.

While the MDEQ claims the odors are improving, they recognize there are still significant problems.

“In this case, we had a malfunction of a gas system,” Miller said. “Emissions from this landfill will never be zero. The odors from this landfill will never be zero.”

He added there are no health concerns from the odors.

Media coverage

Sept. 6 Arbor Hills Landfill Mtg. at Northville Twp.

Northville Twp. is hosting a special meeting to discuss Arbor Hills Landfill. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is sending two representatives: Larry Bean, Jackson & Lansing District Supervisor, Waste Management and Radiological Protection Division and Scott Miller, Jackson District Supervisor, Air Quality Division. They are both responsible for overseeing operations at Arbor Hills Landfill.

View the agenda

Date: Sept. 6, 2017
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Location: Northville Township Municipal Offices, 44405 6 Mile Road, Northville MI 48168

Download the Stop Arbor Hills flyer

In addition to the entire Northville Twp. board, we have invited Sen. Patrick Colbeck, Rep. Jeff Noble, Northville city manager Patrick Sullivan, Plymouth Township Supervisor Kurt Heise, members of the Northville school board plus some Washtenaw County elected officials.

Encourage your elected representatives to attend – from your neighborhood’s homeowner association to your PTA to your representatives in the state legislature.

Topics will include: 

  • Landfill’s request to change construction permit
  • Process to expand landfill
  • Toxic and radioactive waste
  • EPA consent order
  • MDEQ odor violations
  • Odor reporting
  • Township update
  • MDEQ update
  • Stop Arbor Hills updates and actions

Violation response

On Dec. 23, 2016, Arbor Hills Landfill submitted a response to the air quality violation issued by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) on Dec. 14, 2016.

Read the response

The response includes a  a collaborative plan for corrective action, which includes the installation of an odor control system, a new utility flare, a new 550,000-gallon leachate tank, five new gas wells and 22 replacement gas extraction wells.

A recent Freedom Of Information Act request submitted by Stop Arbor Hills also returned the following two documents:


Arbor Hills Gets Major MDEQ Odor Violation

After a year and 500+ odor complaints, on Dec. 14, 2016 the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality finally issued a “901 violation” for nuisance odors to Arbor Hills Landfill. This type of violation must be issued by MDEQ’s Air Quality Division (AQD). The other violations this year were issued by the Waste Management & Radiological Protection Division.

Read the violation

Air Quality Division investigations on December 5 and 10, 2016 found air pollution and solid waste violations of the federal Clean Air Act and other laws.

According to the violation: “These most recent observations of landfill gas like odors in violation of Rule 901 and Rule 433(1)(c), appear to indicate the landfill gas collection and control systems are inadequate. While the MDEQ recognizes the efforts taken to date to resolve offsite odors, these recent observed odor violations indicate more work needs to be done to minimize landfill gas odors from the facility.”

The owners and operators at Arbor Hills Landfill must submit a written response to the violation by Dec. 23, 2016.