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!”

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