Requests by a landfill operator and an energy facility in Grayslake to increase the amount of permitted emissions of a potentially irritating gas have drawn scrutiny of nearby residents.
Countryside Landfill Inc., and Countryside Genco LLC are asking the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to revise their construction permits because the amount of sulfur dioxide, a product of combustion, has been increasing.
Concerned residents fearing potential health impacts plan to ask the IEPA to require greater controls on the emissions during a public hearing set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Grayslake Central High School, 400 N. Lake St.
"We're just asking them to get a scrubber and clean up their sulfur dioxide emissions," said Grayslake resident Barbara Klipp, a member of Incinerator Free Lake County, founded in October 2009.
The group also is asking that emissions be kept at or under current permitted levels or face stiff fines.
Countryside, on Route 83 near Route 137, is operated by Waste Management. Genco, located across the street, is a separate entity that collects and burns gas from the landfill to make and sell electricity. The two are considered together for the emission of sulfur dioxide.
Sulfur dioxide is linked with adverse effects on the respiratory system, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, including increased symptoms for those with asthma. The largest sources of emissions are from power plants and industrial facilities.
"Basically, it exacerbates any kind of respiratory condition," said Klipp, who lives in the nearby Prairie Crossing neighborhood. "Certainly, we're the closest but we have people joining us from Libertyville, Mundelein and other parts of Grayslake."
The landfill is permitted to emit about 27 tons of sulfur dioxide per year and the waste-to-energy facility about 14 tons per year, for a total of about 41 tons per year. The permit applications ask that the allowed emissions of sulfur dioxide be more than doubled to up to 97.5 tons per year. Klipp and others contend the landfill and Genco combined are near that level already.
"Their numbers are going up," said Mike Kuhn, solid waste unit coordinator for the Lake County Health Department.
Sulfur dioxide is created when hydrogen sulfide, a landfill gas, is burned as fuel for the generator at the power plant or through a flare at the landfill.
The level of hydrogen sulfide has been increasing in recent years, mainly a result of construction debris that included ground wallboard, that was accepted at the landfill for most of 2008, Kuhn said. Hydrogen sulfide is a pungent gas that contributed to scores of rotten egg-type odor complaints in recent years.
Countryside and Genco in February 2010 were cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for exceeding those permitted limits, in what is an ongoing enforcement action regarding odor control.
Since being cited by the EPA, Waste Management has invested about $2 million to upgrade equipment to better capture the gas.
"It's being addressed. They're implementing corrective action," Kuhn said.
Odors are not part of the request for increased emissions of sulfur dioxide, however, and are not an issue for neighbors at the moment, Klipp said. She said neighbors are not out to "get" the landfill, but want to work with the operators and other stakeholders.
The IEPA has made a preliminary determination that the proposal would comply with regulations.
But the most recent sampling of sulfur dioxide is much higher than the amount on which the revised application is based, said Brad Frost, an IEPA spokesman. He said the application is based on a level of 550 parts per million of sulfur in landfill gas, but the most recent reading was 900 parts per million.
"Is it a one-time spike or is it something that will stay high?" he said. "If it's not an anomaly, they're going to have to come up with something else besides revising the permit, probably."
Bill Plunkett, a spokesman for Waste Management, said the request was "perfectly legitimate" and allowable under regulatory standards. He said the emissions are not above the requested level, and Waste Management hopes to see the levels decline.
Written comments regarding the applications are being accepted by the IEPA until April 21.