Jun 29, 2023 - News

Science will bust Des Moines' foul smells

Illustration of squiggly arrows pointing at a nose.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Starting in August, odor violators will be identified using electronic monitoring systems that measure chemicals in the air and feed real-time data to the city.

Why it matters: The current complaint-driven system is subjective and has left residents to frequently endure "putrid rotting smell" emitted from facilities like animal processing plants, Des Moines officials acknowledged in a meeting last year.

Catch up fast: DSM's current Odor Hotline requires 10 or more complaints within six hours before staffers are prompted to try to identify the cause.

  • There have been no mitigation plans — required after three findings in a 90-day period — in at least two decades.

State of play: City staffers spent a few years studying solutions to the problem with the help of a consulting firm.

  • The City Council will soon vote on a $100,000 first-year contract with Envirosuite, an international company that uses its eNose system to collect actionable data at industrial operations.
  • Ten monitors and a weather station will be placed in public spaces near three businesses — Darling Ingredients, Wiechman Pig Company and a Pine Ridge Farms pork packing plant — that city officials believe are the biggest odor offenders.

What's next: Data will be collected over the next year to possibly set new compliance policies, Chris Johansen, the city's neighborhood services director, said in a memo last week to council members.

Meanwhile, DSM continues to work with the three companies.

  • Those businesses may not be in violation of the city's current ordinance, but they've been notified of the problems and are responsive, Johansen wrote in the council memo.

Zoom in: Darling continues to evaluate its odor-control technology, spokesperson Jillian Fleming tells Axios.

  • Wiechman added equipment and staff to help monitor and reduce odors, district manager Todd Burgett says.
  • Pine Ridge Farms officials did not respond to Axios' request for comment but will install a new device this fall to "drastically reduce" odor emissions, Johansen wrote.
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