London Grove citizens, supervisors address local odor issue
● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
In order to best address the increasing concerns of London Grove Township residents that call for the eradication of odor caused by a local mushroom composting business, Supervisor David Connors recommended that a town hall meeting be held sometime in the next few months that would bring elected officials and environmental watchdogs together, in order to find solutions.
During his presentation at the township's Nov. 4 supervisors meeting, Connors was joined by over 50 concerned township residents in targeting Nutra-Soils, Inc. on 324 Old Baltimore Pike, for what those in attendance claim is a regular and odorous emission of hydrogen sulfide into the environment, which include not only the air but nearby streams and waterways.
Connors said that over the last several years, Nutra-Soils has committed 15 violations of DEP laws, during inspection reports. In April 2014, Connors said that an inspection by the DEP of Nutra-Soils documented a clear violation of the Clean Water Act; specifically, noting hand-dug channels from a million-gallon retention basin that were filled with spent mushroom substrate water. The DEP report documented that the basin was overflowing into nearby creeks.
The nearly one-hour-long discussion between supervisors and residents was first spurred on by two recent letters sent by township residents to the Department of Environmental Protection [DEP], and one letter to the township, complaining about the excessive odor coming from the direction of the business.
More complaints will likely lead to more action, Connors said.
"I know it seems that it feels like it's going on deaf ears, but the real impact of that is that when enough people go on line and enough people complain, the DEP will see a spike and go out and do a site inspection," he said.
About a year ago, the township purchased two water monitors from the Stroud Water Research Center, as a means of analyzing salinity levels in township streams. The results of recent reports document that downstream, there are spikes in salinity levels in streams near the vicinity of Nutra-Soils.
Sensing a feeling of helplessness from elected officials and local residents, Connors proposed that a town hall meeting be held sometime during the winter, inviting representatives from the DEP, as well as State Sen. Andy Dinniman, State Sen. John Lawrence and State Sen. Joe Pitts.
"I would like to ask them why [Nutra-Soils] are they allowed to pollute our water," he said.
Board chairman Richard Scott-Harper expressed his frustration at the DEP, a state department who many feel should be the chief enforcer of water and air pollution controls in the state.
"We have fought in the past and spent a lot of money and really gotten nowhere, and I really do believe the problem is up in Harrisburg," said board chairman Richard Scott-Harper. "I think this is the first step in trying to make them aware that this is not going away. On the one issue that we thought was a clear violation, we've talked to our special counsel about possibly going after the DEP, and seeing what we can do about getting them to enforce their own regulations."
"It's the DEP's departmental policy right now to make recommendations," Connors added. "If they feel like doing, they do it. If they don't, they don't."
If in fact the DEP is sitting on its hands on this issue, then can the township seek other governmental agencies -- for instance, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration [OSHA]?
Russ Phifer, an environmental consultant with WC Environmental, LLC in West Chester, said that OSHA only protects employees.
"We need to look more at the federal model," he said. "There are six states right now that do regulate hydrogen sulfide [H2S] emissions from agricultural operations. Pennsylvania is not among them. However, the federal ambient air quality standards would apply."
Phifer said that rather than relying on periodic air studies, he suggested that the township purchase portable hydrogen sulfide monitors -- at about $270 apiece -- to monitor air quality on its own.
It's time for the township to monitor it's own air quality, he said.
"The bottom line is that if we're smelling it, then we're definitely exposed," Phifer said. "We have many people in this community for which a safe level is much lower than the recommended level. Yes, there are certainly people who can handle higher concentrations of H2S. It's a sensitizer. The more you smell it, the less you smell it. Once you hit between five and ten parts per million of H2S, it starts knocking down your odor detection system, so we actually could be exposed to considerably higher concentrations, and not think it, if we're just looking at odor as a determining factor."
Defined, hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, flammable poisonous gas that has a characteristic rotten-egg odor. It is formed in the decomposition of organic matter containing sulfur, and is used as an antiseptic, a bleach, and a reagent. Figures from the American National Standards Institute state that increased exposure to high levels of H2S can escalate the severity of health concerns. H2S levels between 200 and 300 parts per million of H2S, for example, can develop eye inflammation and respiratory tract irritation after one hour of exposure, and if that number is increased to between 500 and 700 parts per million, it can result in loss of consciousness, loss of breath, and death.
Connors said that he had spoken with several people in the local mushroom industry, in determining how the township should proceed with this issue.
"Its really important to note that we have some really great and responsible mushroom farm operators, owners, and families who have been here for generations," he said. "We live in a wonderful agricultural community, but it's a situation where there's one bad apple [who is] creating issues."
The date, time, location and details of the proposed meeting will be sent in postcard form to London Grove Township residents, well in advance of the event.
In other news, township engineer Ron Ragan provided an update of the long-overdue projects needed to be completed in the Lamborn Hunt development in the township. Although Ragan said that the progress being done has made the development look "100 percent better than it did before," he said that several projects are still in the final phases of completion.
Infiltration berms, scheduled to be completed last week, were delayed because of rain, but are scheduled to be repaired this week. A landscape consultant told Ragan that she is about "98 percent comfortable" with the landscaping on the development, and told Ragan that up to 60 additional plants have been planted.
The one item that has not been addressed, he said, was that water retention ponds at two locations in the development have remained excessively deep. Ragan recommended that the township add to an existing escrow on the development, in order to cover the cost of an engineering analysis and plan of what's needed to repair the ponds, a township review, and then an implementation of the plan.
"You drive in there and it looks 100 percent better than it did before," Ragan said. "Things are mowed, things are landscaped, it looks nice. If you go in there from the time we started this in July to now, there's a world of difference."
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .