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State DEC: Brookhaven Town violated air quality rules with landfill odors

The Brookhaven Town landfill in Brookhaven on Feb.

The Brookhaven Town landfill in Brookhaven on Feb. 28. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

Brookhaven Town repeatedly violated state air-quality rules by failing to contain foul odors from the town landfill for nearly two weeks in December, state environmental officials said.

The landfill, on Horseblock Road in Brookhaven hamlet, failed 10 of 11 inspections from Dec. 13 to Dec. 26, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement provided to Newsday. The violations could leave the town on the hook for thousands of dollars in fines.

Inspectors from the DEC's divisions of air resources and materials management detected the smell of hydrogen sulfide — often described as "rotten egg smell" — during inspections conducted in neighborhoods near the landfill, the DEC said. Hydrogen sulfide, a gas byproduct of natural decomposition of waste, is mostly harmless but can cause maladies such as watery eyes and sore throats.

The DEC said it ordered the inspections in response to complaints from 75 people who said their neighborhoods had been filled with "persistent, unpleasant odors" late last year.

The notices of violation were issued to town officials on March 1. Brookhaven and DEC officials met on March 5 to discuss the allegations and the town's plans to address odor problems at the site.

Brookhaven officials said Tuesday that the release of odors was inadvertent and stemmed in part from poor weather that hampered the town's plan to install a cap, or cover, to reduce smells caused by the landfill.

Town officials said they had completed the capping project in January and installed wells that would remove hydrogen sulfide and other gases.

“I think what the state is looking for us to do is continue to do the efforts that we have been,” Brookhaven chief of operations Matt Miner said in an interview. “The solution was to hook the gas system up and complete the capping, and we’ve done that.”

Brookhaven officials said rainstorms in November and December not only prevented workers from installing the cap but also exacerbated the odors.

"Those rains really killed me," said Christopher Andrade, who runs the landfill as Brookhaven's commissioner of recycling and sustainable materials management. “It seemed like every seven days it was a deluge.”

The DEC said in a statement it had "documented a downward trend in the number and frequency of complaints received" since January.

Local residents have complained for years about smells emanating from the vicinity of the landfill. Last year, about two dozen residents and parents and employees of Frank P. Long Elementary School in Bellport sued the town. In the lawsuit, plaintiffs blamed various health problems on the landfill.

In response to the suit, town officials said the landfill complied with federal and state regulations, though they have acknowledged that the landfill is one of several facilities, including a privately run composting plant, that cause foul smells in the area. 

The violations cited by the DEC carry a potential civil fine of $18,000 for violating air-quality laws, plus an additional $15,000 for each day the law is violated. In addition, violation of materials-management laws carries a $7,500 fine, plus $1,500 for each day violations occurred.

Miner said town officials don't expect to be fined for the violations. 

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