Debbie Dressner knows farm smell. A native of Ontario County who has lived around farming all her life, she is tired of hearing from some that her complaints about odor from the Ontario County landfill may be from cabbage or cows.

Dressner and her husband, Steve, live across from Hemdale Farms on Orleans Road in Seneca Castle, three miles from the landfill. For Debbie, there’s no mistaking landfill stench. Sometimes the odor is so strong she smells it through her clothes dryer.

In recent days, Debbie is one of more than 100 people who have posted odor complaints on social media and made formal complaints through a landfill hotline or talking directly with local officials. Some report landfill stench as far away as the city of Canandaigua, 20 miles to the west, as well as the city of Geneva to the east and from numerous other surrounding communities.

Jean Cirone, who teaches at the Canandaigua Primary School and commutes from her home in Geneva, tried changing her route to avoid the pungent landfill odor along Routes 5 and 20. Taking County Road 4 wasn’t much better. Cirone is contacting the state Department of Health and Department of Environmental Conservation with concerns. The DEC exercises state oversight of the landfill, which is owned by Ontario County and managed by Casella Waste Systems Inc.

Health concerns

Landfill gas is no laughing matter. The odor, foul like rotten eggs mixed with the reek of ammonia, is caused primarily by ammonia and hydrogen sulfide. Short-term exposures (typically up to about two weeks) to elevated levels of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide in the air can cause coughing, irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, headache, nausea, and breathing difficulties, according to the state Department of Health.

These effects usually go away once the exposure is stopped.

“Studies have been conducted in communities near landfills and waste lagoons to evaluate health effects associated with exposure to landfill gases. These studies lasted for several months and reported health complaints which coincided with periods of elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide and landfill odors,” according to the Department of Health. “Reported health complaints included eye, throat and lung irritation, nausea, headache, nasal blockage, sleeping difficulties, weight loss, chest pain, and aggravation of asthma. Although other chemicals may have been present in the air, many of these effects are consistent with exposure to hydrogen sulfide.”

Whether an annoyance or health hazard, people are concerned.

Landfill expansion delay

Casella is in the midst of an expansion project within the landfill at the intersection of Routes 5 and 20 and County Road 5. Odors that increased last fall are blamed in part by a delay in completing the final stage of a new cell built to take trash.

Canadice Town Supervisor Kris Singer, who heads the Ontario County Board of Supervisors’ Planning and Environmental Quality Committee, said Casella was ready to finish the new cell but could not because of a delay in the DEC signing off on the project.

In a construction update in November, Casella warned of increased odor because of the delay. An exposed part of the older landfill liner system — required in order to weld new sections of liner to older sections — left exposed a stone layer that “provides the path of least resistance” for landfill gas and odor, Casella reported.

Based on meeting with Casella and the DEC, “it is our understanding that there are multiple types of odors being experienced, with multiple causes,” stated Carla Jordan, who heads a new county department overseeing the landfill.

Responding to questions via email, Jordan cited three main causes: Exposed drainage stone that is associated with the most recent cell construction; newly installed gas wells that are not fully operational; and odors associated with the types of waste received at the facility, specifically wastewater treatment plant sludge.

Ontario County last year hired SCS Engineers, a firm the county has hired previously in landfill matters, to do an independent assessment of landfill odor. Singer said Casella is also doing its own assessment on causes and ways to manage landfill odor.

“There have been issues there is no doubt about that,” said Seneca Town Supervisor Andrew Wickham.

Casella “has things they need to improve on,” the supervisor said. “They can’t go on like this.”

Looking ahead

The landfill is on the agenda at a regular meeting Monday of the Planning and Environmental Quality Committee. The meeting is at 1:30 p.m. in room 200 of the Municipal Building, 20 Ontario St., Canandaigua.

Jordan, Wickham and others working on tracking and finding solutions urge people to report landfill odor by calling the 24-hour hotline: 1-888-230-2004.