Northville Township — Sara Anthony and her husband recently sold their house in Northville and bought one in Novi so their young daughters could go to a school that wasn’t near a landfill.
The Anthonys had bought their Northville home knowing about Arbor Hills Landfill, less than a mile from Ridgewood Elementary School. They were told the landfill, one of the state’s largest and tallest, would be closed within a few years.
Then the landfill began emitting pungent odors almost two years ago. The odors have diminished but have not been eliminated in spite of work by Advance Disposal Services, the company that operates the dump and its gas collection system.
On Wednesday, Anthony stood before two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials and Northville Township Supervisor Robert Nix at a special, standing-room-only meeting. She asked: What are they doing at Ridgewood Elementary to protect the children?
“I couldn’t put my babies there anymore,” said Anthony as she held back tears.
Since 1970, Arbor Hills has been operating as a municipal solid waste landfill, taking in trash from Washtenaw and Wayne counties. But the 337-acre landfill began emitting intermittent but intense odors in the community around January 2016 as a result of a major malfunction of the gas collection and control system, said Scott Miller, district supervisor of the MDEQ’s Jackson District Office.
Around that time, the landfill operator proposed expanding it but that is off the table, Miller said.
But many residents still are concerned since the expansion proposal still can be resurrected.
“The odors are bad enough but then finding out they were trying to expand ... It was unbelievable,” said Tracey Birkenhauer, who formed Stop Arbor Hills, an environmental nonprofit, in January 2016.
Following numerous complaints of odors from the landfill that year, the Department of Environmental Quality began investigating and issued a half-dozen violations for noncompliance issues against Advance Disposal Services and other companies operating at the landfill, Miller said. Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued several federal violations to the companies.
Wednesday’s meeting was aimed at informing residents of what has been done by the landfill operator to address the odors. Construction since June includes 20 wells that have been re-drilled or newly installed, along with upgrades to pipelines.
“The odors are of less frequency, duration and intensity than they were when this issue first emerged in 2016,” Miller said, adding that no violations have been issued to the company in the last year.
Improvements will continue at the landfill through January 2018, but the odor likely never will be completely eliminated.
“Odors will never be zero,” he said. “But the company needs to do things still and they are currently taking actions to improve the conditions that do exist.”
Nix said Northville Township is working to protect residents’ interests.
“They haven’t been able to solve the problems,” Nix said of the company. “It’d be nice to have a break where there are no odors for a while.”
The Department of Environmental Quality has set up a web page to keep residents updated on issues. Go to michigan.gov/deq and search for Arbor Hills Landfill.