Nov 22, 2022 - News

Des Moines to fix its 'putrid rotting smell'

Illustration of a poop emoji air freshener hanging from a rearview mirror.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Des Moines could soon use scent meters and a threshold system to pinpoint the sources of hundreds of annual complaints generally described as a "putrid rotting smell."

Why it matters: It's a quality-of-life issue that is important for long-term development.

  • Odor problems have persisted in portions of DSM for decades and city leaders acknowledged Monday during a council meeting that its current system is not working.

Flashback: The current system generally requires 10 or more smell complaints in a six-hour window before city staffers will try to find the cause. A mitigation plan is required by the violator after three findings in a 90-day period.

  • Groups like the Des Moines Downtown Neighborhood Association have for years said the policy is not effective.
  • A mitigation plan has not been required in at least 20 years, SuAnn Donovan, the deputy director of the city's neighborhood services department acknowledged during Monday’s meeting.

What's happening: The city council last year commissioned an $83,000 study to help pinpoint and regulate sources of odor.

  • Two years of complaints were reviewed and plotted on a map.
  • City staffers were also trained in odor science and monitoring as part of the work by RK and Associates of Illinois.

Zoom in: The study pinpointed three "significant odor generators"generally located in industrial areas east of downtown:

  • Darling Ingredients rendering plant
  • Pine Ridge Farms pork packing plant
  • Wiechman Pig Company, a swine buying station

How it works: The new plan would require companies that exceed odor thresholds to submit a management plan to fix the problem.

  • An odor expert consultant would oversee the process. Companies that fail to fix the problem could be cited for nuisance violations.

What's next: A formal ordinance and policy could be adopted by the council in the spring.

  • City staffers are meeting with the three named businesses to discuss voluntary compliance options.

Of note: The meat producers did not respond to Axios' requests for comment Monday.

Yes, but: Some of the companies are already being cooperative, Donovan said.

  • The city's goal is not to shutter the business, she emphasized.

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