Odor problem at local plant improved, but not resolved
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Aug. 4, 2004 -- What was intended to be a follow-up report on odor problems at the Sulphur Springs Cultured Products plant turned unpleasant when neighboring residents accused the Dean Foods subsidiary of attempting to cover up the disposal of waste water from the plant and violating environmental regulations.

The same residents brought complaints before the city council last month regarding sewage-like odors originating from a lagoon at the plant where milk by-product waste is held before being hauled to another location for disposal.

Plant manager Ron Wehner reported back to council members Tuesday evening and said several steps were being taken to resolve the problem.

Wehner said the practice of spreading the sludge on a hay field adjacent to the plant had been halted and the sludge was being trucked to a disposal site. He also said a new additive was being added to the effluent in an effort to control the odor coming from a settling basin.

The plant manager said environmental specialists from Dean Foods have visited the site and are monitoring the situation and that inspectors from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have made two visits to the plant and to canvass the neighborhood.

"They reported no odor, other than what was on our property," Wehner said. "At the present time, if you get within 20 feet of the pool itself, you will pick up a slight odor. Other than that, there is not any smell."

Danny Cavanaugh, who lives near the plant at 204 East Park St. and was one of the complaining neighbors last month, said the problem has improved.

"It has improved. There's been only two or three occasions since that date that I have smelled anything, and it wasn't to the extent that it was," Cavanaugh said. "The only thing I can say is, if they continue to haul sludge, I think the problem will be cured."

Chuck Nash, whose home at 902 North Jackson St. was reduced in value by more than $20,000 because of the smell, said while the situation was somewhat improved, the problem was still not resolved.

"It is much improved, but certainly not fixed," Nash told the council. "I just left home a few minutes ago and there was a pretty strong wind emanating from the south to the north, and in the still air [smell] is not pertinent as it was before."

He said the company had worked hard but the problem was not corrected.

In referring to the additive being applied to the lagoon, Nash said he did not know anything about the "chemical" being used.

"We still don't know the chemicals that they're currently using, what the effects of that we are still breathing," he said. "They keep talking about using chemicals, but we don't get any type of report on the hazards of those chemicals. Maybe it's even healthier to smell the stench. We're concerned about health as well as environmental problems."

John Heilman,of Commercial Disposal, one of the companies involved in working to resolve the problem, said the additive, Bio-Kat, was not a chemical but a natural, highly concentrated liquid bio-catalyst that stimulates the natural decomposition of the solids in the lagoon.

"It's bio-degradable and comes from a plant extract," he said. "It's actually used in fish tanks. It's used in water [treatment] plants and you can even put it in your mouth. It's been approved by the Food and Drug Administration."

Nash said the odors were now more noticeable at night and repeated the problem was not resolved.

Linda Myers, whose mother lives in the 800 block of North Jackson Street, also said the problem has gotten better during the daytime hours.

"But something is definitely going on at night because the odor triples at night," she complained. "I don't know if they are spraying. I don't know exactly what they are doing. They're doing something at night and odor gets worse as the night goes on."

The plant manager attributed the stronger odors in the late night and early morning hours to cooler temperatures and higher humidities.

The plant manager said discharge from the plant is less at night than during the day and that vats in the plant are washed during the daylight hours and production is at a lower level during the night time hours.

Mrs. Myers said she had been in contact with Dean Foods and that the company were not aware of any violations.

"[They] did not know of the problem," she said. "[They] did now they were in violation of EPA rules."

Plant manager Wehner said the plant has the necessary permits from the appropriate regulating agencies and that there are no rule violations.

Mrs. Myers charged that someone was being dishonest.

"I don't know if these people are not being honest when we call them or if the plant manager is not being honest," she said. "But somebody is not being honest. I'm not quite sure what's happening, but [the problem] is not cured by any means. There is still a big problem out there."

Mayor Chris Brown said the city would continue to monitor the odor problems as the company works to remedy the situation.

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