Odors bring citations for waste plant Complaints of illness fuel repeat notices at compost facility

'Sick all the time'

Operator pledges improvement, but neighbors skeptical

February 15, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The new yard-waste-composting plant on the Anne Arundel-Howard line has been cited by state environmental officials 10 times in the last three weeks for generating sickening smells.

The violation notices from the Maryland Department of the Environment describe a strong, musty smell that has caused itchy and burning eyes, headaches, respiratory discomfort and nausea in people complaining or in the state inspector.

The latest notice was issued yesterday, hours before the plant's operator met at the Jessup site with Anne Arundel County officials to promise that the situation would improve.

"It is a really uncomfortable feeling," said William Woodall, who lives on Ohio Avenue. "We've been having to put towels under our doors to keep the smell out."

The plant, in Howard County, is used by Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties. It is operated by Maryland Environmental Service, a quasi-public company.

In recent weeks, the stench from rotting leaves has caused nausea for some Dorsey residents.

"All these violations are doing nothing for my health and for my family," said Sharon Wieland, who lives on Ohio Avenue. "This place is slowly killing me."

Mrs. Wieland, who has asthma, said her physician has told her to breathe through a charcoal-filtered mask and has increased her use of inhaled medications to keep her airways open.

Her three young sons have had unprecedented nosebleeds and respiratory ailments since the composting plant opened in November, and the family's dog vomits when the smell gets particularly pungent, she said.

"The kids . . . they haven't been outside to play in a long time. They are sick all the time," she said.

The community is promising a standing-room-only turnout for Tuesday's Anne Arundel County Council meeting. At that time, Maryland Environmental and other officials are expected to respond to complaints made by neighbors in January.

James Peck, the company's director, said the problem began when the plant was not ready in time for fall leaf season. Mounds of leaves several stories high trapped odors, which were released as the decomposing leaves were moved into long rows for composting.

"It has only been in the last week that we have the site and the material configured for normal composting. We believe all those problems are in the past," he said.

A consultant hired by the company is expected to issue a report by the end of the week, Mr. Peck said. The state has brought in Lewis Carr, a University of Maryland professor of agricultural engineering, as a consultant.

Dr. Carr visited the plant Monday, said the smell wasn't strong and took samples to test.

Residents are furious, saying the counties should not have put their composting plant near residences.

"I do not want to smell anything from this thing when I step out of my house," Donald Davis said.

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