Noses trained on Cedar Grove

MARYSVILLE — Jo Newland is welcoming the chance to put her nose where her mouth is.

Newland, 60, has been voicing her displeasure for several years with the bad smell that’s been permeating her north Everett neighborhood.

Now the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency plans to assemble 20 people to volunteer their senses of smell for a study to find the source of the stench, and Newland has applied.

Inspectors for the Clean Air Agency have several times traced the smell to Cedar Grove Composting on Smith Island. The company has been fined several times for odor violations at the Everett plant and its other plant in Maple Valley in King County.

Some who have endured the smell, including many who live in Marysville, want more enforcement action taken against Cedar Grove. Before that can happen, though, the Clean Air Agency, which has authority over non-industrial odor complaints in four counties, says it needs more evidence.

“You’ve got the body, you know who killed them, but you have to do the CSI stuff,” Newland said.

That’s why the Clean Air Agency hired Odotech, a company based in Montreal, to conduct the $375,000 study. Cedar Grove Composting is putting up $200,000, with fines paid by the company for odor violations, totalling $119,000, to be applied toward that amount.

The city of Seattle and King County, which both send yard and food waste to Cedar Grove for composting, are putting up $100,000 and $50,000, respectively. The Clean Air Agency is spending $25,000.

Cedar Grove supports the study and a spokesman said the company will take whatever action is called for as a result of the findings. The company has taken some measures already, including further enclosing the building where it receives yard and food waste, but many residents say it hasn’t helped.

Odotech’s chief executive officer, Thierry Page, discussed the study with about 30 people at the Marysville Boys &Girls Club on Wednesday.

The company will enlist 20 people to record their impressions about smells over the course of a year beginning in October.

In addition, six electronic odor detectors, called “e-noses,” will be placed near suspected sources of odors in the Snohomish River delta, including Cedar Grove. Other possible locations include sewage treatment plants operated by Marysville, Everett and Lake Stevens, and the former Tulalip landfill, which closed in 1979.

Data from Odotech e-noses already purchased by Cedar Grove and currently in use on the company’s property will be figured in to the calculations as well. Two weather stations will be set up at strategic locations to record wind direction.

The information from all the sources will be combined into a computer model that will show odor plumes on screen, potentially updated every four minutes, with the images available to the public on the Clean Air Agency’s website. The plumes will not show the type of odor, because in some cases they’ll be mixed in and hard to separate, but will show the intensity, Page said.

Update meetings will be held every three months and the study’s ultimate findings will be released in November 2013.

The Clean Air Agency is currently accepting applications from prospective volunteers. Participants must be 18 or older, be able to attend meetings and expecting to stay in their current homes for the next year.

Odotech and the agency will try to choose residents whose homes are spread evenly around Marysville, Tulalip and north Everett neighborhoods from which odor complaints have been received.

Anyone who fills out an application will be invited to a training-and-screening session Sept. 25 or 26, likely in Marysville.

Part of that session will include a smell test. Samples of suspect odors — including compost and sewage — will be on hand for participants to sniff.

“We are looking for people with normal senses of smell who are representative of the average population,” Page said.

Once the study begins, the work will be simple and won’t take long, he said.

“It’s easy, it’s quick to do,” he said.

Odotech has 600 clients in 22 nations, most of them government agencies or industrial companies, according to a presentation at the meeting.

The company, founded in 1998, has done 12 other odor studies similar to this one, Page said. In many cases there was a prime target of complaints, as in this case with Cedar Grove. These included a rendering plant, an incinerator, a landfill, a wastewater treatment plant and a composting operation.

In most of those cases, the study resulted in action being taken to lessen the smell, he said.

“On each project, we found there was a surprise for everyone, for the plant operator and also for the public,” Page said. “Everyone is learning new things.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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