There has been an uptick in the number of odor complaints about the Port Townsend Paper Corp. in the past month compared to the previous few months, both mill officials and state Department of …
There has been an uptick in the number of odor complaints about the Port Townsend Paper Corp. in the past month compared to the previous few months, both mill officials and state Department of Ecology (Ecology) officials agree.
A Facebook page devoted to mapping the incidents also has seen an increase in complaints, says MillOdorous founder Nancy Botta.
Mill and Ecology officials say wind patterns and smoke from fires around the state may have roles in the increase.
Felix Vicino, a spokesperson for the mill, said mill officials believe the odor issues can “mainly be attributed to a warm, high pressure and light southeast winds dominating the weather pattern during this time.”
“This resulted in poor air dispersion,” Vicino wrote in an email to The Leader. He said wind pattern change also is the reason why wildfire smoke was trapped in the area and seemed to be hanging around.
“We have been operating the mill within our daily permit limits and there have been no upsets,” Vicino wrote.
He added, “It’s also worth noting that overall odor complaints have been decreasing over the past several years.”
He said complaints in August 2017 were lower than August 2016.
Shingo Yamazaki, who inspects the mill for the state Department of Ecology and also tracks odor calls from the community, has said throughout the summer in various email exchanges with The Leader about odor issues that the mill is operating normally and within its operating permits.
“An increase in odors could be from many factors, including changes in wind direction or other atmospheric changes,” Yamazaki wrote in July.
As of Sept. 13, Yamazaki reported there have been 184 complaints about the mill smell and 242 complaints overall in 2016.
Ecology’s Angela Fritz reported Monday that there were 44 odor reports in August 2016 and 26 reports in August 2017.
Yamazaki said the odor-tracking database is not perfect because there are “some inconsistencies regarding reporting and data entry.”
One person this year submitted a spreadsheet to Ecology with more than 70 complaints about smell logged over a year.
“Ecology feels there is value to odor reporting when they are received near the time of the incident. This allows Ecology to identify odor events and to review operational data received from the mill to cross-check for releases and emissions,” Yamazaki said.
“Ecology understands the concerns of the community and will be looking closely at opportunities for improvement at the mill. We want to work with the residents of Port Townsend to ensure that we’re protecting the environment and minimizing the impacts the facility has on the local community.”
Yamazaki said there may be more complaints because of recent cutting of trees near the mill.
“There is no indication that there is a specific operational change at the facility that would case this increase in odors,” he said.
Yamazaki also said that he had heard concerns about a lack of oxygen at the ASB (aerated stabilization basin) pond, a 33-acre treatment pond that mill officials have said is a source of odor.
“I performed an inspection on Sept. 1 and reviewed the continuous oxygenation data for the two weeks preceding the inspection. There was no indication that PTPC is reducing oxygen to their waste-
water treatment plant at this time,” Yamazaki wrote.
In addition to reporting incidents to Ecology, there’s an online Facebook group of people who share information about odors at the mill.
MillOdorous was created by Botta in 2015 to track odor complaints and map them as well.
“I started MillOdorous a few years ago to give voice to the people whose lives are being severely impacted by the noxious emissions from the mill,” Botta said in an email to The Leader.
“This is not an ‘us against them’ situation here in town. We honor the jobs that are provided. We want the CEOs to invest in upgrades that will significantly decrease odors emanating from the mill,” Botta wrote. “Yes, they might be in compliance, but they need to do more.”
The Facebook page has a map with colorful balloons denoting where people have reported smelling odors from the mill. Each balloon indicates a house. Initials are used to share where the odor is detected.
“Remember! Date-Time-Location-Rating (1-10),” Botta wrote on Sept. 11, noting where to report the odor. Botta could not be reached for comment as of press deadline.
Reports often come with comments, such as, “When I left the house, noticed that the smell had dissipated and changed since my earlier report. Still distinctive mill but smelled charted, if that makes any sense,” wrote one woman.
The Facebook conversation included talk about air quality in light of wildfires and whether that was having an impact locally.
“There are no monitors that measure the sulfur gasses or other toxic chemicals that cause the noxious odors from the mill in the ‘ambient air’ and that includes ASB pond,” wrote Lynda Woodson.
“Our page is growing because the mill odor is growing. We believe there is technology out there that can alleviate this problem,” Botta wrote.
She noted that she sends out information regularly to the Port Townsend City Council, Ecology officials, candidates for public office as well as state officials.
In addition to MillOdorous, there is another local organization, PT AirWatchers, that also urges people to report odors and annoying noises.
There are 176 members of PT AirWatchers and 133 members of MillOdorous, according to the two Facebook accounts.