Residents plan move to escape stench

Published 11:48 pm Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mia Harrod and her husband have decided to move from their “dream home” in their neighborhood off Nansemond Parkway.

The noxious odor in the air is making them sick, Harrod told the Southeastern Public Service Authority board of directors at its meeting Wednesday. Harrod has visited the emergency room several times for breathing treatments, and now uses an inhaler. Their young daughter and son have missed more days of school this year than ever before, affected by mysterious coughs and sniffles, Harrod said. Harrod’s husband suffered a nosebleed, for no apparent reason, on Sunday while driving on Nansemond Parkway. None of them ever had respiratory problems before November.

“I want to know who’s going to buy our house,” Harrod asked the SPSA board during a public comment period. “Is SPSA going to buy it?”

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Harrod was one of five area residents who spoke at the meeting. This week, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality issued a warning letter to SPSA, noting it had determined the mysterious odor that has plagued the area for months is coming from the regional landfill in Suffolk. The department asked SPSA to come up with an action plan within 20 days.

The authority has begun several control measures to help mitigate the stench, said landfill supervisor Scott Whitehurst. Among them — keeping less of the trash uncovered and using more dirt to cover the trash after it is compacted.

The environmental department thinks the odor is caused by hydrogen sulfide, which is common in landfills because it is the result of decaying trash. Typically, a system would be installed to pipe away the gases and either flare them off or convert them into energy, but that system has yet to be installed in the current cell of the landfill.

Board member Marley Woodall, who represents Chesapeake, pushed SPSA executives to do something about the odor.

“There is a real problem,” Woodall said. “If it’s on our site, we’ve got to deal with it.”

Also at the meeting to speak on behalf of their neighborhood were Suffolk City Councilman Leroy Bennett and retired police chief William Freeman.

“I really would like someone to take ownership of the problem,” Freeman said, noting the odor is sometimes so strong he leaves his home and goes elsewhere. “Obviously we can’t move the landfill, and I’m not going to move my home.”

SPSA executive director Rowland Taylor said the authority is researching engineering firms to help determine the source of the problem. One proposal has been received so far, and it includes field monitoring of the situation, Whitehurst said.

When a second expected proposal is received, Taylor anticipates using an emergency exemption to issue a contract right away. If he did not do so, the board of directors would have to approve the move, and everyone agreed that waiting another month was not an option.

James C. Adams II, Suffolk’s representative on the board, said the problem is “not acceptable.”

“We will deal with it,” Adams said. “I think it can be solved.”