Bristol, VA updates public on plans to reduce landfill odors

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BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – An installation of devices designed to suck up gas and water build-up deep inside the Bristol, Virginia Solid Waste Management Facility could be complete by early October, and that could mean some reduction in the pungent odors bothering residents surrounding the landfill.

The city, in conjunction with contract Draper Aden Associates, has started the process of installing 17 new gas wells that extract gas and water trapped inside the landfill. Draper Aden representative Ernie Hoch said this is the city’s only option to reduce the odor.

“If this doesn’t mitigate enough odors, the next step would be to do more wells,” Hoch said. “There really isn’t any other option.”

Draper Aden will also upgrade 19 existing wells to bring them back to full function. Hoch said the installation of the first new well started on Friday, but was delayed Monday after a part on the machine used to put in the wells broke. Crews dug about 70 of the intended 120 feet before the stoppage.

He said installation would resume on Wednesday. Each well takes about a day to install, so Hoch estimated all the new wells would be installed by October 4. After that, he said it would take at least a month to get them fully operational.

Hoch said the main problem with the landfill is that its water drainage is not effective enough. Years of rainwater is trapped inside the trash pile, accelerating decomposition at a rate faster than originally intended. He said crews found significant amounts of water after drilling in the first well.

The smell many residents have reported in the surrounding area is from 20+ year old trash deep inside the pile, Hoch said.

After the gas is collected, Hoch said it would be burned off in what landfill experts call a flare or used to power generators that create electricity for the city. Draper Aden is also exploring the use of liners to keep water out of the fill and odor neutralizers to attack the smell.

Hoch said all of these things working together should help mitigate the stench.

“The basics are the wells, and cover and keep the water out of it,” Hoch said. “If we can do all that, the odors will go away,” Hoch said.

The push for odor reduction comes after a year of complaints from residents in Bristol, Virginia and Tennessee.

Joel Kellogg lives about two miles away from the landfill, but weather and wind carry the smell to his residence. Kellogg said it is so pungent it gets into his house and takes away his ability to sleep.

“It’s like I drank a pot of coffee and then tried to go to bed,” Kellogg said.

The odor has also raised serious health concerns for residents. In July, city leaders said there was no health risk coming from the odor, despite finding high levels of the carcinogen benzene appearing in tests.

First Presbyterian Church of Bristol, Virginia Pastor Samuel Weddington said the smell gets into his worship hall during service and causes irritation for congregation members.

“Headaches, nausea, some people with migraine issues having that aggravated, asthmatic attacks, people can’t even breath in their own homes,” Weddington said. “Then just the general discomfort level, which you have to remember the emotional impact on mental health.”

The odor has also raised environmental questions among residents. One man blamed the odor for the loss of five bee colonies.

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