May 7, 2024 - News

Des Moines' scientific stink detection works, early results show

Illustration of a doctor with a long Pinocchio nose

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Des Moines' bad smell complaints are down following the completion of a $2 million odor burning project by Smithfield Foods, according to a report provided to the City Council Monday.

Why it matters: The report is among the first indications that Des Moines' new scientific stink detection program is working and prompting businesses to take action.

Catch up fast: The city began using an "eNose" system to measure chemicals that cause smell in October.

  • Monitors and a weather station collect data near animal processing plants on DSM's southeast side, a place that had been identified as a likely major source of the city's foul odor problem.

Driving the news: Multiple businesses are working alongside the city to monitor the data and have invested in their own odor reduction equipment.

  • Pine Ridge Farms pork packing plant, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc., started using a system in February to burn gasses that cause odors, Dalton Jacobus, the city's neighborhood inspections administrator, told the council Monday.
  • The total number of city complaints between February and March fell more than half, from 37 to 16, per the report.

Reality check: The city only has five months of data, and warmer months are generally when complaints increase.

Yes, but: The numbers indicate improvement, Jacobus told the council.

The intrigue: The report reveals that odor complaints are largely influenced by wind direction.

  • Complaints are also more likely during the weekdays, likely corresponding with production, Jacobus said.

What's next: The city has suspended taking actions against odor violators until they have a full year of data.

  • Recommendations on how to handle future violations will be reviewed by the City Council later this year.

Meanwhile, monthly odor reports are being published online.

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