No surprise: landfills stink

Published 9:37 pm Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The drive along U.S. Route 58 through Suffolk comes with more than its share of problems. Heavy traffic, with a generous portion of 18-wheelers, can make the highway a worrisome route for the average traveler.

But there’s an area near the bypass where the danger isn’t physical, but olfactory. It’s tempting for the eastbound driver to breathe deep the rich, dark smell of coffee from the manufacturing facility at Massimo Zanetti — where the iconic Chock full o’Nuts brand is packaged. But experienced travelers are careful not to inhale too deeply, for they know the odor that lies just on the other side of that tempting aroma.

Nothing, after all, ruins the bouquet of fresh coffee quite like the smell of rotting trash. And a noseful of stench from the Southeastern Public Service Authority’s regional landfill, located east of the beverage plant, erases any positive olfactory memories. Sometimes, it takes miles of clear-air travel for the nose to recover from the sudden assault.

It’s not surprising that folks who live near the landfill are not especially fond of their neighbor. Living with that odor every day is more than most of us could bear. Some days are better than others, we’re sure. But only the very best days would feature the clean, brisk smell of clean air.

But dealing with the landfill’s odor is part of the price Suffolk must pay for getting free garbage disposal and, at least theoretically, the lower taxes that ensue. Some days, when the wind blows the right direction and most folks in Suffolk can pretend there’s no landfill and no rotting garbage within nasal range, it seems like a good deal. Other times, when the humidity or the temperature, or the barometer or heavy air or some other atmospheric phenomenon make the odor more pervasive, the deal seems a bit less palatable.

Lately, the latter has been the case, as unusually wet weather has increased both the landfill’s odor and its range. Some folks, including at least one member of Suffolk City Council, have wondered whether SPSA is ignoring Department of Environmental Quality guidelines that call for a layer of dirt to be spread over the trash each day to keep the smell contained. That seems unlikely, as the penalties for ignoring the guideline could be huge, and the public relations disaster would be one that SPSA could do without.

It’s easy to forget sometimes, since the landfill is so well-hidden from view. But council and others need to remember that Suffolk hosts a landfill and landfills sometimes stink.