Image by Dinh Khoi Nguyen from Pixabay

Landfills are notorious for smells that are not good.

A federal judge has ruled that the Jefferson Parish Landfill emitted gases and odors in 2017 and 2018 that could have caused the headaches, nausea and other discomfort alleged by hundreds of parish residents in several civil lawsuits. The Nov. 29 decision from U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan means a single class-action against the parish, its landfill management firm Waste Connections and environmental consultant APTIM can now move forward. Plaintiffs living near the Waggaman landfill on both sides of the Mississippi River are seeking monetary damages in that case. “The plaintiffs have proven by a preponderance of the evidence that odors and gases emitted by the Jefferson Parish Landfill during the relevant time period were capable of causing headaches, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, sleep disruption, dizziness, fatigue, anxiety and worry, a decrease in quality of life, and loss of enjoyment or use of property in the general population,” Morgan wrote.

The first question is was the landfill there before they lived there or put in later.

The defendants filed a motion Tuesday challenging Morgan’s ruling, which found the concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas measured in neighborhoods around the landfill met a “nuisance standard.” They said they plan to file an appeal with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals next month. Craig Gambino, a River Ridge resident and one of more than 500 plaintiffs in the consolidated class-action, said he had almost given up on the case until he got a letter from his attorneys announcing the ruling. “I think it’s amazing that it came down to this ruling,” Gambino said. “The people that I’ve talked to didn’t believe that this was going to happen. We just thought it was going to be swept under the rug.”

By there nature, landfills put out gases.

Landfills normally emit gas when rainwater and runoff seep through the earth, producing leachate and causing chemical reactions with the waste. But a proper system of gas-collection wells and pumps are supposed to keep leachate levels low and prevent dangerous chemicals, including methane and hydrogen sulfide, from getting into the air. Morgan heard testimony earlier this year from former Jefferson Parish landfill engineer, Rick Buller, and a string of landfill chemical experts. Their testimony backed up a 2019 WWL-TV investigation in which Buller took the blame for suddenly allowing massive amounts of spent lime to be used to solidify liquid industrial waste in Phase 4 of the landfill. The spent lime was the cause of malodorous hydrogen sulfide (H2S) being produced inside underground wells in concentrations of more than 2,000 parts per million, which is 200 times larger than expected for a landfill, according to testimony. Inside the wells, those concentrations exceeded what measuring devices could register and would have caused “instant death” to humans. But even after traveling through the air and dissipating, the H2S was still measured in Waggaman neighborhoods and even across the river in Harahan and River Ridge above 5 parts per billion, levels the court found could cause nausea, headaches and other symptoms if someone is exposed for a period of 30 minutes.

There were other examples of the landfill not operation in a safe manner.

The trial also featured testimony from Brian DeJean, who runs the neighboring River Birch Landfill. He told us in 2019 that he found a slew of problems with the Jefferson Parish Landfill’s gas collection system, including flooded gas wells, broken gas pumps and inefficient collection of gas at a gas plant. The parish responded by hiring River Birch to install new pumps and collect the gas at its plant next door. Repairs to the wells and pumps reduced the odors and improved gas collection, which Jefferson Parish can sell to pipelines for a profit. Gambino said the smell was so powerful for a few years that he and his neighbors had to stop having outdoor gatherings. Since the lawsuits and subsequent repairs, he said he’s noticed the difference. “I haven’t really been smelling anything from across the river. Everything seems to be in working order,” he said. “I think we’re moving in the right direction here for sure.”

I saw the same in Virginia when people moved close to military bases and then complained about the gun fire. The expansion of housing areas causes problems like this as no longer are landfills isolated.

Jefferson Parish land fill puts out noxious odors
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