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Kent County surprised how much methane coming from closed landfill

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Part of a system that collects and burns landfill gas

It's going to take more time and work than originally expected to fix a methane problem at an old Kent County landfill. 

In August, county officials discovered during routine tests that the methane from a landfill next door to the Kentwood City Office Building was migrating outside its perimeter.

Methane is a flammable gas created by the decomposition of organic matter.

Director of Public Works Darwin Baas says the subsequent investigation revealed a surprising amount of methane being produced.

The reason for such an abundance of methane from a long-closed landfill is a bit of a mystery. But Baas says it could be as simple as large amounts of decomposing newspapers dating back to the 30's, 40's, and 50's, when almost everyone had at least one newspaper subscription.

The plan now is to go from the current nine gas wells with a flare to burn off the gas, to eighteen gas wells, with a total of two flares. 

The closest building to the landfill, the Kentwood City Office building, is being tested every week. The tests have all come back "zero detect" for methane. 

The county also offered residents free methane tests of their homes.

Baas was a little surprised at how few residents asked for the tests.

"We were prepared to do dozens, if not a hundred, of these tests," he says, "and we've done less than 10."

Baas assumes the county's transparency and hard work to communicate with the community put people's minds at ease. The county sent out 150 letters to residents near the landfill and held two neighborhood meetings.

All of the home tests came back zero detect for methane as well. The new wells and flares are now slated to be in place early next year.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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