Republic Services ordered to cease accepting compost materials at Parr Blvd. facility

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Republic Services has been ordered to cease accepting compost materials at its facility at 1 Parr Blvd. in Richmond, following the discovery of violations at the plant stemming from an investigation into odor complaints since last fall.

Inspections of the facility, located adjacent to the Richmond Parkway, uncovered improper processing and storage of compost materials, according to officials with the the Environmental Health Division of Contra Costa Health Services.

The department’s director, Dr. Marilyn Underwood, said the facility is no longer allowed to accept organic materials collected from West County communities until it can provide documentation proving it is handling its green waste safely.

“We’re calling it a ‘time out,’” Underwood said. “We hope it will just be a few weeks…we want to see this compost facility back in operation and doing well.”

In the meantime, compost material will be diverted to other Republic Service facilities, said Don Litchfield, the company’s area environmental manager.

Litchfield called the cease-and-desist order “unnecessary,” saying the operation recently underwent upgrades and other improvements to mitigate odors. He added the facility “does not pose an environmental hazard or nuisance.”

The issue drew public attention in late September, when the facility began an operation to spread materials in its compost piles, reportedly as an erosion control measure. The process emanated an odor that could be smelled by West County residents for miles, leading to more than 300 complaints to government agencies over the course of two weeks, according to a report by county regulators.

As a result, the facility was slapped with six public nuisance violations, and inspections uncovered a number of problems. Odor complaints from neighbors continued through late last month.

“Our inspectors spent a lot of time there trying to figure out what’s going on,” Underwood said, who added that all trash must be properly stored and handled, as they can contain pathogens and chemicals that can be harmful to humans and the environment.

“Unlike a landfill and a transfer station, a compost facility is like a biological factory,” she said. “All these different things have to happen directly…moisture, temperature, oxygen levels. It’s not just pushing garbage around.”’

Litchfield says the Parr Boulevard operation is “well past” the issues that continue to concern regulators.

Underwood does not dispute that the Richmond facility has taken positive steps toward becoming a well-run facility. The recent cease order, she said, is a temporary measure that will allow the facility to compost existing piles at the facility, and to also provide documentation proving best practices are being employed.

“Composting can be done correctly and well done,” Underwood said. “I do think [the Parr Boulevard] facility is moving in that direction.”

Meanwhile, Richmond Planning Director Richard Mitchell said the facility is due for a 5-year review of its conditional use permit. A consultant is being sought to conduct the review, a process likely to take several months.

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