The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality handed down an enforcement order and penalty on Fresno-based Blue Ridge Landfill on Feb. 7 after months of investigations into the west Pearland “mystery odor.”
Along with paying a $43,712 fine, the TCEQ has proposed a list of enforcement provisions to bring the landfill into compliance, according to TCEQ documents.
The enforcement order calls for the landfill to submit a plan for self-monitoring within 30 days of the effective date that would outline odor prevention best practices. The plan at a minimum would include a plan for odor minimization, plans for 24-hour odor surveillance at the property line and at off-site locations, procedures for responding to odor complaints, compliance with surface emissions monitoring requirements and detailed record keeping procedures.
The order comes after investigators at the commission’s air division cited the landfill twice in the last four months.
The latest citation was handed down in early January following an on-site investigation of the landfill.
“What the second notice of enforcement did was to help confirm that there’s an issue and there’s a reason for that issue,” said Jon Branson, deputy city manager in Pearland. Branson also chairs the West Pearland Air Quality Odor Task Force, which is a group of residents and officials from the city of Pearland, TCEQ and Blue Ridge Landfill.
The second citation alleged the landfill “failed to perform surface emissions monitoring in accordance with the [regulatory] requirements.” The TCEQ relies on companies to self-monitor their emissions and submit quarterly reports to the state.
Investigators found 136 locations at the landfill with methane emissions exceedances and at one point recorded methane at 165,500 parts per million, according to TCEQ documents.
The Environmental Protection Agency regulates methane emissions, which is odorless, to 500 ppm under the Clean Air Act.
Hydrogen sulfide, which gives off a foul odor, was also found at elevated levels at the landfill. In two instances, investigators recorded levels that were so high the analyzer, which only measures up to 50 ppm, maxed out, according to TCEQ documents. Overall, nine exceedances were recorded, according to the TCEQ.
The odorous compound is a highly regulated, flammable and potentially fatal gas. The state restricts ambient air levels between 0.08 and 0.12 ppm when measured over 30 minutes, according to the Texas Administrative Code.
“We have provided a response to TCEQ and are continuing to work with them through the process. As a good neighbor, we have made considerable infrastructure investments in the site that are yielding positive results. We are continuing to invest in our systems and operate the landfill in an environmentally responsible manner and as a good neighbor to our community,” Blue Ridge Landfill said in a statement to Community Impact Newspaper.
Infrastructure improvements include a modified sump pump system and covers on leachate tanks and solidification pits, according to TCEQ documents.
The landfill was named alleged by the TCEQ to be the source of the odor and was given a “nuisance odor” citation Oct. 21, which was its first citation.
“There are a number of regulations that the TCEQ can enforce: anywhere from issuing fines to shutting down an entity if there is no cooperation. Blue Ridge has promised to work to find a solution in an expedient manner,” said state Rep. Ed Thompson, R-Pearland.
In addition to the air quality in west Pearland, the TCEQ waste and water divisions have open investigations into the landfill, officials said. Investigators declined to comment as to the nature of the ongoing investigations.
But the pace of the state’s investigation has frustrated some residents.
A group of eight west Pearland residents have filed a lawsuit against the landfill over “noxious odors” they said have reduced property values and interfered with their quality of life.
The plaintiffs have sued for more than $5 million in damages for themselves and 100 or more “class members” who have filed odor complaints against the landfill with the plaintiff’s attorney, according to court documents.
For the lawsuit to be considered a class action, the court must certify it.
A pretrial hearing is set for March 10. The plaintiffs asked for a trial by jury in their petition.
“The landfill is required to operate within their permits and minimize the odors. While there may be an occasional whiff, having a continuous odor is beyond what a person can reasonably expect living next to a landfill,” said attorney Brenton Allison, who is representing the residents.
Representatives of the landfill declined to comment on the lawsuit.