Question: I have a small oxidation event at my landfill and am continually testing for carbon monoxide (CO) in the surrounding landfill gas (LFG) extraction wells. Using colorimetric tubes, I am monitoring the readings which range from 5-10 parts per million (ppm). Is there an accepted standard for background carbon monoxide in LFG? Moreover, how much inaccuracy is expected using the colorimetric tube testing?
Answer: Carbon monoxide (CO) can be found in small quantities even when there is no landfill fire. If your concern is landfill fire, most reputable resources state that a landfill fire generates readings of at least 100 ppm CO and more typically in the 500-1000 ppm range with 1000 ppm a reliable indicator that a landfill fire event may be present.
CO readings on colorimetric tubes are inherently less accurate and tend to run higher than laboratory results. Colorimetric tubes do provide value as a real-time indicator versus subsequent lab results, and can be used as an index reading, calibrated by lab results later. If you’ve had a landfill fire event before, with CO levels greater than 100 ppm, the lab confirmed 5-10 ppm CO could be residual left over from the earlier event.
Although some people believe that the presence of CO at almost any level is an indicator of landfill fire, recent laboratory tests show that CO can be generated at values up to and over 1000 ppm by elevating refuse temperatures without the presence of combustion (fire). Other tests have shown that high values of CO are found in some landfills with no current landfill fire and no indication of a past landfill fire. This information supports that it is possible that Elevated Temperature (ET) Landfills can have CO levels over 1000 ppm CO without the presence of combustion or landfill fire.
In the end, CO can be an indicator of landfill fire, but not always, as described here. Low methane, high carbon dioxide, and even landfill temperatures above 131 degrees F may or may not be indicators of past or current landfill fire. Physical indicators of a landfill fire may include rapid settlement in a localized area, cracks and fissures, smoke and flame, melted landfill gas system components, and char on the inside of LFG headers and blower/flare station components such as a flame arrester. However, most of these indicators can occur at ET landfills as well without the presence of fire or combustion.
A professional landfill gas engineer is needed to assess these conditions as a whole, and make a judgment on the underlying driver, condition, and resolution.
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