The Smell of Progress: Lebanon Works to Permanently Curb Landfill Odor

Wednesday, January 07, 2015
West Lebanon — As early as next week, the periodic scent of rotten eggs may cease to be a part of the Route 12A corridor’s ambiance and the city may be one step closer to selling energy from gases produced by its landfill.

“It would be nice to have a locally grown fuel source,” Lebanon’s Solid Waste Manager George Murray said Tuesday morning.

Murray noted that several area businesses, including Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Kleen Laundry and Pike Industries, have recently shifted to using compressed natural gas as a fuel source, and a Hanover developer has proposed to site a natural gas depot on property in Lebanon’s Route 120 corridor.

The odor that wafts out of the city’s landfill has long been a nuisance to residents and visitors. After a series of delays and temporary measures, a permanent fix appears to be on the horizon.

As Murray spoke, Kingsbury Co. employees worked in frigid temperatures to install a propane-powered biogas flare intended to burn off foul smells at the West Lebanon landfill, which accepts about 38,000 tons of trash annually.

Murray said the landfill’s stench primarily stems from hydrogen sulfide produced by the decay of gypsum, a component found in drywall.

“It doesn’t take much to smell it,” Murray said.

Murray said he expects the flare’s installation to be complete by Jan. 15, and once installed, he anticipates it will eliminate 95 percent of the odors now associated with the 30-acre landfill, located between the Connecticut River and Route 12A.

Lebanon resident and Dartmouth College chemistry professor Gordon W. Gribble said he notices an “amazing” odor coming from the landfill during his weekly visits to the Route 12A Price Chopper store.

Upon hearing of the city’s plans for the flare project, Gribble said some of the sulfur compounds producing the smell may not be flammable.

“It might help,” he said. “I hope it does.”

Of the Fore-U ice cream shop’s proximity to the landfill, North Pomfret resident Gaal Crowl said, “How anyone eats ice cream there, I don’t know.”

Crowl, reached by phone on Tuesday, described driving through West Lebanon on Interstate 89 as “descending into rotten-egg valley.”

“For years I’ve wondered why the merchants put up with it,” she said.

Though the city would have preferred to have completed the installation sooner and during the warmer months, Murray said a series of delays led to this month’s installation.

The city contracted Carbon Harvest Energy, a Burlington-based company, to develop a methane-to-energy project for the city’s landfill in 2011, but the agreement fell apart when Carbon Harvest furloughed six of its 11 employees in 2012 and subsequently filed for bankruptcy in 2013.

After the Carbon Harvest project failed to come to fruition, Murray said he reached out to other vendors, but found they were reticent to tackle a project without knowing how much energy might be produced.

“Nobody had any idea how much gas we had,” he said.

A monthslong state permitting process and delays in the delivery of the flare, which is similar to those used by the oil industry to burn off gases during oil extraction, caused the city to further postpone the installation.

As an interim measure, the city installed three 9-foot temporary flares in particularly strong-smelling parts of the landfill in the fall of 2013.

Murray said those flares have worked to reduce odors, but the new $295,000 flare — purchased with bonds expected to be paid back through tipping fees — will address the problem throughout the entire facility.

The new system relies on a vacuum to pull gas through 8,000 feet of pipe, bringing it to a filter to remove moisture — which is returned to the landfill — and then pumping it up through the 25-foot flare, which is expected to burn gases such as methane and hydrogen sulfide.

Lebanon resident Donald Koury, reached by phone on Tuesday, said that while the flare might mitigate the stench, it will not address “the fundamental wasteful proposition” of burning the foul-smelling gases without converting them to energy.

Koury compared the city’s plans to “putting lipstick on a pig.”

Murray said the city still hopes to produce energy from the landfill gases in the future.

The new system is intended to track the quantity and type of gases emitted from the city’s landfill.

After one or two months of information has been recorded, Murray said he anticipates the city will approach contractors to convert the landfill’s gases to either electricity or compressed natural gas.

Upon learning that the city plans to pursue energy generation in the future, Koury said, “That sounds like progress — even if it is glacial.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at .

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