Suffolk investigates HazMat incident at Regional Landfill

Published 5:46 pm Wednesday, September 27, 2023

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Suffolk Fire and Rescue responded to reports of a gas odor at various locations across Suffolk. The reports began on Sept. 24, when Suffolk Emergency Communications received multiple reports regarding an odor of gas in various locations across eastern Suffolk. Upon further investigation, Suffolk Fire & Rescue was unable to locate any apparent gas leak or source of odor. 

“On the morning of Sept. 26, 2023, at approximately 8:10 a.m., a strong odor was noted to be originating from the Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) plant at the Southeastern Public Service Authority (SPSA) Regional Landfill located on Bob Foeller Drive,” the city said in a news release. “Suffolk Fire and Rescue officials responded and determined the situation to be a HazMat operation. Plant operations were shut down and staff and contractors were evacuated from the vicinity.”

A regional hazmat team was dispatched to the site to assess the hazard and determined the odor’s source to be originating from a 60 lb metal tank containing methanethiol (methyl mercaptan) located in a dumpster on the plant premises. The hazmat team concluded that there was no natural gas leak and that the odor was from the methanethiol compound. 

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Methanethiol is the compound added to natural gas, giving it a distinct foul-smelling odor, which is used as a tool to aid in leak detection. 

“The Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) plant operator took immediate action to address the source of the odor and is implementing a multi-step process to fully trap and alleviate the lingering order from the site,” the news release said. “The plant operator has activated an emergency response team to assist in the cleanup and proper disposal of the tank.” 

At the time of this release, the exact amount of methanethiol involved in this incident is unknown. According to the release, due to the containerized nature of the metal tank and the low boiling point of methanethiol, no methanethiol had the potential to enter storm waterways at the Regional Landfill. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has investigated this incident and has determined that the release of mercaptan does not pose any risk to the environment.

Suffolk Fire Chief Michael Barakey was on-site and stated,The responsible party for the business is working with a clean-up contractor to clean up the leak and the damaged tank.  All detection and monitoring of the immediate area, and the communities that reported the odor, are negative for any hazards, and although a residual odor may be present for a few days, there is no health or other hazards to the public.” 

 Southeastern Public Service Authority provided the statement, “SPSA is grateful for the work of local first responders and regulators for their diligence and dedication in determining that no harm to health or the environment resulted from this action. Environmental and Operational Staff are taking every measure to ensure accountability from the contractor responsible and remain on site to monitor progress.”

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has issued this report on the incident: