Dane County Solid Waste works to solve odor problem

Dane County Solid Waste works to solve odor problem

There’s a stinky problem in an east Madison neighborhood, and one of the culprits is a nearby landfill. But the Dane County Solid Waste Division is taking serious steps to clear the air.

For months now, residents have complained of a putrid smell permeating their neighborhood. News 3 reported last month that a survey, conducted by Public Health, determined the landfill is at least partly to blame. Solid Waste officials said a wet summer led to gasses being produced sooner than usual. Cool, calm nights allowed the odor to waft into Madison, McFarland and Cottage Grove neighborhoods.

“With a situation with a challenge like this, it’s very hard to identify and solve. We understand that’s very frustrating for the people experiencing it. It’s also stressful for the people trying to resolve it,” John Welch, Dane County Solid Waste manager, said.

To mitigate the problem, Solid Waste workers are putting additional soil on their daily waste and outside slopes. They’ve also installed misting systems that mask and neutralize odors. But the biggest project has been installing seven gas collection wells, which capture gas then destroy it.

“Through all those efforts and especially those latest efforts, we’ve seen some significant improvements. We’ve seen a good reduction in the number of incidents and the number of responses to the odor survey,” Welch said.

In addition to efforts at the landfill, Solid Waste and Public Health Madison & Dane County are working partnering with UW-Madison to measure gas levels and types at the landfill and in affected neighborhoods.

“We’ve really been throwing everything we can at it, leaving no stone unturned,” Welch said. “It’s difficult to get good readings in the neighborhoods because it does not always occur in the same location, and sometimes when it occurs it’s very fleeting and dissipates quickly.”

In an email to residents, Public Health said exposure to landfill gas may cause short-term symptoms, “such as headaches, stress and other quality of life issues that may be a nuisance,” but that doesn’t usually lead to long-term issues. However, the department recommends anyone with health concerns consult with their medical provider.

“The purpose of measuring the gas is to gather data on the amount and types of gas present when odors are strongest, which help us to determine if there is any risk of health problems,” Public Health said in the email.

People who notice the smell are asked to continue to fill out the survey to help evaluate how the odor-reducing measures are working and to uncover the other sources that could be producing the odor.

“We’ve been here for over 32 years. We really strive to be good neighbors and we take that responsibility very seriously. So we’ve made some good strides but we’re not done yet and we’re not going to stop until it’s completely resolved,” Welch said.