‘You can’t stay outside’ — Middlesex towns gagging from landfill stench
EAST BRUNSWICK — It’s been a stinky problem for years but ever since last summer the stench has been getting worse.
Sunnie DeToma, of Sayreville, said before she went to bed Monday night she noticed a putrid smell.
“Welcome to Funkytown," she told her husband.
At 2:30 a.m., she “woke up gagging."
"Then, of course, I couldn’t go back to sleep after vomiting. And at 3:30 the smell finally started to dissipate."
DeToma was among more than a hundred residents of central Middlesex County who attended a special meeting Wednesday night at the East Brunswick municipal complex to get an update on smell problems at the county landfill and what the Middlesex County Utilities Authority plans to do about it.
Part of the reason for the increased stench in recent months is a renovation project aimed at improving the system that collects methane gas that is seeping out of the landfill and wafting across the region.
The project involves digging holes and drilling wells into the landfill, which is producing an increased amount of hydrogen sulfide, which smells like rotten eggs, officials said.
Another factor making the situation unbearable, according to the experts, was last year's higher than normal rainfall, which has seeped into the 4 million pounds of waste delivered to the landfill every day.
“The smell is so acrid, it burns your eyes," DeToma said. "It makes you gag. You cannot cover it up with perfumes, deodorizers.”
East Brunswick resident June Adamchuk said the smell changes "from rotten eggs to gas smells, [so] you don’t know if your house is leaking gas,”
"You can’t stay outside. It’s just horrendous. It’s gotten progressively worse over the last few years. You can’t live like that.”
She said when people call and complain about the smell, inspectors will come to their home to see how bad it is.
“We think it’s a 4 or a 5, and inspectors come out and they say it’s a 1 or a 2," she said.
MCUA said in addition to improving the gas collection system, sections of the 200-acre landfill are being capped and a new odor control system is being installed. Work on that system should be completed by the summer, they said.
The landfill opened in 1992. It sits in East Brunswick near the Raritan and South rivers and the New Jersey Turnpike. The people complaining are from East Brunswick, South River and Sayreville.
Maria Sapia, who lives in an East Brunswick neighborhood close to the landfill, is hoping things get better sooner because the smell "gets trapped in your house."
“Like you’re in a bathroom or there’s a gas leak or rotten eggs or a sewer or just awful smells. You don’t want to live like that," she said.
She said 20 years ago the landfill would produce noticeable smells five or six days a year. But now it can be five or six days a week.
“Around the holidays, it was really bad. It was almost every day, so we didn’t have the holidays at our house. Not one get-together because I didn’t know when it was going to not be, you know, smelly.”
East Brunswick Mayor Brad Cohen said sometimes, like with a car repair, fixing a problem like this takes longer than anticipated and it’s going be more expensive as well.
He said he’s been told the MCUA is taking a multi-pronged approach to fix the problem and “the thought was it would take another three to four weeks for them to finish the work.”
He said the engineers seem to have a better handle on the problem and how to remediate it.
“I’m hoping that the estimates that they’ve given us, they can keep to it and the residents can count on that.”
He added it’s important to remember “the odor itself, which as unpleasant as it is, is not dangerous. There’s no carcinogen being used [...] The problem will get fixed.”
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com