CORTLAND – A rotten-egg odor usually crawls up and burns Lisa Williams’ nose when she is driving three of her children to Cortland Elementary School.
Sometimes she smells it again in the evenings, closer to 8 p.m. The odor can be so strong that Williams’ 9-year-old son gets pounding headaches, while her asthmatic 8-year-old son increased his medication dosage this summer, Williams said.
Williams said the culprit can only be the DeKalb County landfill.
“It smells horrible, and we know the difference,” she said. “That smell is very distinct.”
Some Cortland residents have reported that the area near the landfill, 18370 Somonauk Road, Cortland, seems to smell worse since Waste Management began taking in more trash Aug. 1 in order to start the process sooner of saving money for the DeKalb County Jail expansion through a tipping fee. The county’s landfill host community agreement with Waste Management allows an additional 500 tons of trash a day to be collected on top of its previous rate of about 300 tons a day.
Some residents have complained to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Waste Management recently settled a lawsuit that the Illinois Attorney General’s Office filed after about 60 students and staff at Cortland Elementary School were sickened Jan. 14 by a landfill odor when the odor infiltrated the school’s ventilation system.
Illinois EPA Spokesperson Kim Biggs said her office has received nine complaints about the landfill since July. Locals may file a Citizen Pollution Complaint Form to alert authorities of the nature of the complaint and who complainants believe is responsible for an environmental pollution problem.
Although the complaints residents file through the Citizen Pollution Complaint Form identified the landfill as the source of the odor, there are other sources in the area that may be the cause of the odors, depending on the day and wind direction, Biggs said in an email.
The other sources odors could come from are a nearby wastewater treatment plant and cattle farm that are in the same vicinity as the landfill, Biggs said.
“Citizens are encouraged to notify our agency when excessive odors are noticed being emitted by the landfill or other sources,” Biggs said in the email. “The agency will respond with inspection of the area and other necessary follow-up with potential sources.”
In response to the Jan. 14 incident at Cortland Elementary, Waste Management is required to notify the Illinois EPA when excavation work is being conducted and must also postpone or stop working when the winds are out of the south, Biggs said.
Since Waste Management began accepting additional waste Aug. 1, landfill operations in managing trash disposal have not changed, Waste Management Spokesperson Lisa Disbrow said in an email. About 80 trucks carrying about 8 tons each of trash and other nonhazardous solid waste are received at the landfill every day. Crews working on expansion are on track to operate the landfill’s first new cell in early 2015, Disbrow said.
“We continue to follow our odor control-operating plan, which includes monitoring the wind direction, speed and notification requirements for [trash] excavation activities,” Disbrow said in the email.
Some parents have decided to pull their children out of District 428’s Cortland Elementary and homeschooling them since the Jan. 14 incident. Cortland mother-of-four Katie Bryant teaches her three youngest sons – ages 9, 7 and 4 – while her oldest son attends DeKalb High School.
A total of about six or seven families pulled a total of 12 to 13 children out of Cortland Elementary after the Jan. 14 incident, Cortland principal Kimberly Lyle said.
Bryant has lived in her Cortland home for six years, and she said the odor is worse now than when she first moved from a Chicago suburb. When her 7-year-old son smells the odor outside, he immediately runs inside and closes all the windows to the home, Bryant said.
The smells hurt Bryant’s nose and throat and makes her feel nauseous, she said.
“Nothing has changed,” she said. “They’re bringing in more garbage, and we’re smelling it more and more.”