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Unpleasant neighbor

The Baltimore Sun

In Frank Marion's Millersville home, ornate mirrors hang on walls painted rich shades of gold. Pillows are arranged just so on the leather sofa. And in nearly every corner, a flickering candle emits a soft perfume.

That's the only way to mask the smell from the dump, Marion said.

Since early summer, Marion and his neighbors say that they have noticed the air filling with the pungent scent of rotten eggs nearly every evening around supper time. They blame the foul smell on the nearby Millersville landfill.

"I call it the ground burping," said Marion, 51. "I can't open my windows to enjoy the fresh air. This is supposed to be my domain, my escape from the real world, but I don't even want to have people over."

This week, about a dozen neighborhood residents gathered at Marion's home to discuss the smell that hangs over their quiet streets. They want the county to appoint a third party to monitor the emissions from the landfill, and they want to test the air and their well water to see whether contaminants are present. But mostly they just want the smell to go away.

Tracie Reynolds of the Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works said employees have gone out to smell the air dozens of times in response to Marion's complaints. Except for a few occasions, the employees did not notice a foul smell, the spokeswoman said.

"It has always been the Millersville landfill's position to be a good neighbor," Reynolds said. "They do respond to every odor complaint that they receive, and they do respond in a timely manner. There are no detectable odors that have been noticed most of the times."

The Millersville property is the county's only operational landfill, and it receives trash only from households and small businesses in the county, she said. Some county waste is also shipped to a facility in Virginia under an agreement that is in effect until 2013. After that, all county garbage will go to the Millersville landfill, she said.

The landfill is about 30 years old and will probably be used until 2040, she said.

Although the occasional bad smell is unavoidable, a persistent odor could lead to a landfill's state permits being revoked, said Robert Ballenger, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

State employees have inspected the landfill in response to residents' complaints but have not detected an odor, he said.

Yet as neighbors chatted in Marion's living room Monday evening, a pronounced smell of rotten eggs hung in the air outside.

The smell is probably caused by hydrogen sulfide produced by decomposing building materials in the landfill, said Richard D. Klein of Community and Environmental Defense Services, a company that aids community groups. Marion invited Klein to the meeting to discuss what residents can do to combat the odor.

Although hydrogen sulfide is not dangerous in low concentrations, there is a possibility that more-hazardous substances are emanating from the landfill, Klein said.

Some neighbors said they limit the amount of time their children spend outside because of concerns about contaminants.

"I have a 6-month-old, a 5-year-old and a 10-year-old," said Kathi Harris, who, like Marion, lives next to the landfill. "I'm worried if they're going to be safe."

Marion, who works for the Department of Commerce, bought his four-bedroom home in the 300 block of Constant Ave. in January 2005 for $600,000. Landfill employees assured him that he would not notice an odor, he said, but by that March he started noticing foul smells.

The landfill is clearly marked so that prospective residents are aware of its presence, Reynolds said.

Until June of this year, the odors would change and come and go sporadically. But since then, landfill neighbors have noticed the sulfurous stench nearly every evening.

"Since June, it's been much worse than it's ever been before," Harris said.

Although Marion has a swimming pool, gardens and fire pit on his 2-acre property, he spent little time outside during the summer.

Raymond Hopkins said that his wife burns scented candles and uses plug-in air fresheners to mask the smell. But he wonders whether the landfill is somehow to blame for her headaches and insomnia.

At this week's meeting, the neighbors made plans to send letters to other residents to see whether they are troubled by an odor. They plan to meet again in a few weeks to chart their next steps.

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