Something's in the air in Carthage — and it's stinky

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 | 8:57 p.m. CDT

The Associated Press

CARTHAGE - The state needs to develop stricter rules for investigating and enforcing odor problems, the mayor of this southwest Missouri town said during a meeting with regulators and area industries.

Toward the end of the two-hour session on Monday to discuss odor problems, Mayor Jim Woestman said the Missouri Department of Natural Resources was making progress. But he also described the get-together as "a feel-good meeting" and said tougher regulations were needed.

"They (the DNR) can only do what they have the regulations to do," he said.

The meeting included representatives of the DNR as well as such local industries as Renewable Environmental Solutions, which is blamed for the majority of odor problems; ADM Milling Co.; Schreiber Foods; Leggett & Platt Inc.; and Butterball.

Woestman told the industrial representatives that city officials valued their presence but that "we're feeling taken advantage of."

"We want the city back," he said. "We have to have this problem solved."

Since March, Carthage residents have filed 143 odor complaints with the DNR. Most of those have been blamed on Renewable Environmental Solutions, a biofuels producer. But the department hasn't cited a company for an odor violation in more than two years.

"Smelling an odor doesn't necessarily mean there's been a violation," said Leanne Tippett Mosby, deputy director of the department's Division of Environmental Quality.

Renewable Energy Solutions officials continued to deny that their plant had an odor problem, calling their odor-control technology "state of the art."

"Carthage had documented odor problems before RES came to town," said Stacy Denison, the plant's representative.

Bob Williams, executive director of Carthage Water and Electric Plant, was among those disagreeing with Denison. He said that unlike other area businesses, odors from Renewable Energy Solutions can be smelled for miles.

"I've been to the plant, and what I smelled in your lab is the same thing I've smelled in my garage five miles away," Williams said. "It doesn't last as long, and it's not as intense as it was, but it's no mystery where it's coming from."

Nate Dally, Carthage city attorney, said he has had to dispute comments from the company's attorney, who also claims there's no odor problems.

"It smells about five days a month, and Carthage is getting to be known for the odor," he said.

Mosby said DNR regulations require an odor to be detected at a dilution of at least 7-to-1 for a violation to occur. She said state officials are considering lowering the threshold.

"There's been no decision yet. We're not even into formal rule making," she said. "We're also looking at whether a lower level could trigger a nonpunitive procedure where we would work with a company on odor problems."

Mosby recommended the city distribute questionnaires so residents can note when odors occur and their intensity. She also suggested the companies pay for additional studies of odors in the Carthage bottoms, but few of the industrial representatives showed much interest.

They and the department did discuss setting up a rapid response system that would alert companies when officials received an odor complaint so the plants could check their systems.

Schreiber Foods representative Deborah VanDyk said such a system could help match the odor with the time of day, weather and conditions within each plant at that time.

"Maybe we could get problems corrected without even pointing a finger," Mosby said.


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