Monmouth County official: Action will be taken on ‘hell of an odor’

NEPTUNE – A team effort is required of municipal, county and state officials to quickly eradicate the source of an overwhelming odor residents have said is coming from the Monmouth County Reclamation Center in Tinton Falls.

“You have every right to be upset,” state Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) said to a room full of residents as they voiced their frustrations and detailed their experiences living with the fumes of what they described as a pungent and persistent odor.

The stench, which officials and residents agreed is “unacceptable,” is disruptive to the quality of life of residents who live near the reclamation center that houses garbage from 53 municipalities in the county.

On Jan. 28, a meeting to address the matter was held at Hamilton firehouse, Neptune. Sponsored by Gopal, the meeting drew dozens of public officials and hundreds of residents from several municipalities. 

Although the reclamation center is in Tinton Falls, the strength of the odor combined with wind can carry the stench to neighboring towns, residents said.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a switch to turn off the odor,” said Geoff Perselay, Monmouth County’s deputy administrator. It’s not going to happen tonight. It’s not going to happen tomorrow. (Eliminating the odor) is going to happen on a gradual basis.”

Perselay said the overpowering stench is caused by landfill gas, leachate seeps – water that comes into contact with garbage –  and a four-month construction project at the property. This project concluded on Jan. 15, he said.

Perselay said the construction project “exposed 11 acres of the landfill to the air and during that time when the landfill gas collection system was shut down …  we had a significant amount of rain.”

Perselay said significant rainfall in early 2018 has exacerbated the leachate issue, noting that the state experienced 42 inches of rainfall between September and December.

In 2018, Perselay said, 55 million gallons of leachate were removed from the reclamation center. 

“Rain equals excessive leachate,” he said. “The landfill is like a sponge and the difficulty is getting that liquid out of the landfill … When leachate hits the air, it creates a hell of an odor.

“I want to apologize,” Perselay continued. “We (the county) have not communicated very well, if at all, in terms of what we do at the landfill, how we do it and when we do it. My bad was that we (county officials) did not notify Tinton Falls or send out fliers to residents saying we were going to dig up 11 acres of landfill and it’s going to smell.”

The 11 acres the landfill opened for four months “to redirect the seeps into the landfill so they would drain into the collection system” is complete and functioning properly, Perselay said.

To eliminate the existing odor, Perselay said officials have reconnected the landfill gas collection system, which was shut down for safety reasons during the $1.1 million construction project.

“We also are working with the company which runs the gas collection system and we had them increase the vacuum in the gas collection system which keeps the odors within the pipes as opposed to emanating out of the landfill itself,” Perselay said.

He said officials have started using an odor neutralizer more frequently throughout the day in the priority areas of the reclamation center.

“We also applied to see if we could have the county’s mosquito helicopter fly over and apply deodorizer on top of the landfill. That was rejected,” Perselay said.

Finally, Perselay said a mixture of sand and organic materials will serve as a cover over sections of the landfill. Additional landfill gas vaults and evaluating the potential implementation of an odor misting system at the perimeter of the reclamation center would be pursued.

During the public comment portion, residents took turns voicing their displeasure with the matter.

Residents questioned why the landfill cannot be closed and moved to another town, why their property taxes are increasing, and asked if there are any health risks associated with breathing in the odor.

Several residents said they can smell the odor inside their homes. One resident said he has resorted to using bottled water to brush his teeth after noting that the sink water began to emit a bothersome stench.

Monmouth County Freeholder Director Thomas Arnone said, “Let’s take the scenario that the landfill is closed tomorrow. You still have years and years of odor that still needs to be addressed … My first priority is fixing what is there now.”

“Everyone who puts garbage outside is to blame for this,” Tinton Falls resident Steve Garcia said.

Officials said residents are encouraged to submit formal complaints to the state Department of Environmental Protection’s 24-hour hotline at 1-877-WARNDEP.