The putrid smell wafting over swaths of the city in recent weeks is in fact emanating from the Johnston landfill and its operators have been ordered to solve the problem, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Management said today.
DEM compliance officers detected odors emanating from the Rhode Island Resource Recovery facility on Shun Pike in Johnston “that were considered objectionable beyond the property line of said facility,” according to an Oct. 19 letter of noncompliance send to RIRRC by the DEM.
The letter ends speculation about the source of the smell, which has been described as a putrid burning smell that varies in intensity from faint to overpowering across a large section of the city.
The DEM detected the odors on two occasions. On Oct. 12, a representative of the Office of Compliance and Inspection detected odors “determined to be emanating from the [RIRRC] facility” and on Oct. 17, a representative of the Office of Waste Management also detected the odors.
For residents downwind of the facility, a solution to the problem couldn’t come sooner. Ed Langlois, who has lived in Cranston for three years, said he started to smell “this horrendous odor about six months ago. I had never smelled it before then.”
Langlois, who lives behind the Walmart on Plainfield Pike, said there are some days the smell is so strong, “you can actually smell it inside my home.”
Langlois is not alone. City officials have received numerous calls about the smell from upset residents. The issue was raised at the last two City Council meetings. Director of Constituent and Governmental Affairs Carlos Lopez said last week that the city was working with Governor Lincoln Chafee’s office and it was believed the source of the odor was not the landfill.
There were a few theories circulating — it might be coming from tilling at an old pig farm, or from an electrical turbine off Route 295 that caused problems in the past. Lopez said the DEM was investigating.
And then yesterday, Lopez told the City Council that the governor’s office told the city that the smell was actually coming from the landfill after all.
The noncompliance letter, signed by DEM Supervising Air Quality Specialist Christopher R. John, states the “objectionable odors constitute a violation” of air pollution regulations prohibiting such odors beyond the property line.
RIRRC was instructed by the DEM to implement “immediate actions to eliminate” the odors and failure to do so could result in a formal enforcement action and fines.
If the smell does finally go away, it will be a breath of fresh air for many residents who have been forced to hold their noses.
"There are some days it's not there," Langlois said. "And other days it just about takes your breath away."