BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) — A panel of experts recommends the City of Bristol, Virginia “strongly consider” stopping waste disposal operations at the city’s landfill while actions are taken to mitigate odors coming from the facility.

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality on Monday released the panel’s final report regarding the odor problems at the landfill. The DEQ had assembled the panel, which met with city officials and engineers in March to discuss the landfill.

The panel recommended several actions to minimize the odors, including the construction of a sidewall odor mitigation system around the landfill, improving the performance of existing gas extraction wells, and installing a temporary geosynthetic cover over the landfill.

The report said the sidewall odor mitigation system is a “priority to fast-track odor mitigation.”

In its report, the panel also urged the city to stop using the landfill while odor mitigation measures were underway.

“Continuing Landfill operations while implementing the proposed remedial actions is problematic,” the report states. “Limiting operations to the northern end of the Landfill while addressing the ETLF (Elevated Temperature Landfill) condition in the southern area of the Landfill is not recommended.”

“The City should strongly consider a cessation of waste disposal operations at the Landfill due to incompatibility of operations with the necessary odor mitigation and ETLF remedial strategy. Short term waste filling operations to shape the surface of the Landfill for the placement of the interim geomembrane cover must be carefully coordinated with engineers working on remedial actions.”

The panel believes the city landfill is exhibiting early signs of elevated temperatures, characterized by temperatures above 131 degrees Fahrenheit. This is linked to the release of odors, the panel said.

“ETLFs are characterized by low methane content in the landfill gas, high leachate production rates, leachate with elevated concentrations of organic compounds, production of odoriferous gas, rapid settlement, and self-propagating reactions that generate heat,” the report states. “This condition has the potential to worsen unless prompt (immediate) action is taken.”

The report stated the landfill sidewalls were the primary source of odors, “suggesting that the sidewall liner has been compromised.” The panel also said odors were also coming from the surface of the landfill due to inadequate cover on the top.

The panel also found the landfill has issues with settlement, meaning the landfill has seen a decrease in fill volume even though intake has been constant.

Settlement poses problems for the gas extraction wells. The shifting in waste can cause the wells to twist in different directions, which limits their ability to remove gases deep inside the landfill.

From June 2021 to November 2021, the data showed a 13,000 cubic yard decrease in landfill volume.

Additionally, the panel found insufficient evidence that high benzene concentrations were coming from an external source.

They believed the benzene is “likely being derived from the waste mass,” but they did not have sufficient data to determine the source of benzene production or release.

The report said benzene is common in the leachate, the water that has passed through the landfill, of ETLFs.

Panelists concluded that closure would be a long-term project, requiring several decades for stabilization. They said failure to control stormwater and account for waste settlement could re-start the process, bringing back high temperatures within the landfill and the odors.

They said a “provision for a secure and appropriate level of funding, including technical and operational resources for long-term management of the landfill is necessary.”

The report drew the support of HOPE for Bristol, the group that has advocated for months that the landfill be closed.

HOPE for Bristol Co-Founder Joel Kellogg said the report was a validation of what the group has always said.

“It’s something that we’ve been asking for for a long time,” Kellogg said. “Now we know, this panel from all across the country, some very tenured, knowledgeable people are seeing this as a recommendation for our community.”

Stan Barringer, a HOPE for Bristol board member, said the report is a step in the right direction, but questioned why it took Bristol, Virginia this long to find these answers.

“I think this is a major victory for the community as we see there are better ways to handle this landfill,” Barringer said. “It could be closed to the point that there is no more solid waste added to the landfill. That is contrary to what Bristol, Virginia has said up to this point.”

Included in the recommendations is a provision of an “active community outreach program to communicate strategies, provide status and progress reports, and receive citizen feedback.”

Kellogg approved of that recommendation after HOPE for Bristol had requested “meaningful involvement” in the panel. He said, if followed, it could provide Bristol residents with the up-to-date information they’ve wanted for months.

“We don’t know what’s going on up there. We don’t know when they’re doing the work. We just don’t know,” Kellogg said.

Missing from the document, however, is a definitive timeline for implementation and a total cost of the recommendations. Those two items were included in Bristol, Tennessee’s list of demands for the DEQ panel to avoid legal action against Bristol, Virginia.

A March 7 letter from Bristol, Tennessee’s legal counsel to Bristol, Virginia City Manager Randall Eads and DEQ Director Michael Rolband requested the recommendations contain “a timeline in which those actions can be completed” and ” the estimated cost of completing the actions and how those costs will be funded.”

The letter provides a April 30 deadline for a consent order between Bristol, Virginia and DEQ “incorporating the action plan and addressing the resolution of all permit violations.”

Bristol, Virginia City Council meets Tuesday night at 6.

You can view the panel’s report below or by clicking here.

For complete coverage of the ongoing issues at the landfill, click here.