Lehigh Valley

Lower Saucon enlisting citizens' help to mitigate odor problem

Township could soon provide residents with air testing equipment

LOWER SAUCON TWP., Pa. - Odor-weary residents, living near the 224-acre IESI Bethlehem Landfill and several other area businesses that may be emitting foul smells throughout parts of Lower Saucon Twp., Northampton Co., could have air testing equipment at their disposal in the near future.

Lower Saucon Township Council voted Wednesday night to enlist the services of Lou Militana, a meteorologist, partner and principal consultant from Ambient Air Quality Services, Inc. of Lincoln University, Pa., Chester County, to study historical odor data complied by the township's landfill committee.

Militana told council that one of the ways to identify where foul odors wafting through the township are emanating from is to provide residents living in the affected areas with air testing kits.

The kits contain stainless steel canisters that residents can use to take an air sample, write the date and time of the sample on the canister, and return it for testing and analysis.

"It's nothing that a citizen can't do," Militana told council. "We can't figure out if the odors are a health and safety issue without air samples. You'll get a whole list of compounds and their levels in it from the air sample."

Militana and Ambient Air Quality was the lone company from four firms to garner interest in a RFP put out by the township to investigate odor complaints, according to township manager, Jack Cahalan.

Last month, council, residents and Christopher Taylor of Hanover Engineering discussed the problems of unidentified smells emanating from the IESI Bethlehem Landfill.

Cahalan produced a map of several businesses that might be emitting odors into the township, including the landfill, Bethlehem Renewable Energy, the Bethlehem Sewage Treatment Plant, Praxair, the Calpine Energy Plant, the Columbia Pipeline Plant and Columbia Pipeline Storage.

Council appeared ready to award Ambient Air Quality Services, Inc. a contract for the first phase of an odor investigation, but balked when Militana said that phase one would rely heavily on historical data and past odor complaints that may not be of help.

The second phase of the plan relies heavily on residents reporting smells via email to the township's web site and using the testing equipment.

"Why are we putting more of our efforts into phase one?" said councilman David Willard. "It sounds like phase two would give us better answers than phase one."

Councilman Tom Maxfield and council president Ron Horiszny agreed.

"I don't have a lot of faith in the historical reporting," he said. "I would like to see what happens with the new data and see what we're dealing with."

"We don't want to spend money (on phase one) and find out that it's inconclusive," Horiszny said. "We need to know who's really causing the odor problem."

Militana said residents will need to "train their noses" to identify certain types of odors.

"We can train the community to do that when they get the air samples," he said. "We have some volunteers to document winds better and plot them."

If fresh testing can prove that local businesses are fouling the air beyond their property lines, the state Department of Environmental Protection can cite them, Militana told council. 

Councilwoman Priscilla deLeon recommended that an e-mail blast be sent to township residents, informing them of the efforts to target and mitigate odors.

"Residents need to be educated that this is going on," deLeon said. "A woman living on Easton Road contacted me this week about the odors. It's spreading. People need to know what to do."

Militana will return to council at its April 16 meeting to rework its RFP costs for phase one and phase two. Council will then decide on a course of action.

Council member, Glenn Kern, was absent from Wednesday night's meeting.

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