Dinner in the yard? First, catch the stench

Dinner in the yard?  First, catch the stench

Des Moines, Iowa Parts of downtown Des Moines have been transformed in the past decade with new apartments, trendy stores, and microbreweries, and it’s sometimes difficult to reconcile the present with the not-so-distant past.

But one powerful reminder of the city’s heritage remains: the stench. The pungent smell of rotten meat regularly wafts through each of the shiny new developments, a reminder of the region’s less-refined history as a pork processing center.

“You can’t escape it,” said Brandon Brown, president of the Downtown Des Moines Neighborhood Association, calling it “very frustrating.”

Many cities eager for investment and new vibrancy have welcomed urban housing and entertainment venues in older sections of the city that house bolder industries, only to be stumped by what happens when someone like Brown, who has moved into an upscale apartment downtown, wants to actually enjoy a latte or a meal on a patio. external.

After decades of downplaying or simply ignoring the problem, Des Moines city officials recently launched a sweeping study that will finally toughen regulations on some smelly air purifier manufacturing plants.


Similar difficulties appear in other cities with smelly businesses, especially plants that are common in agricultural areas and even in some big cities. Angry residents are flooding officials with complaints and lawsuits, while some leading companies are installing new equipment, making payments to neighbors or even closing their doors.

No one tracks such controversies, but Iowa State University professor Jacek Kozel, who studies air quality and livestock odor, said he thinks conflicts may be increasing. Sometimes, as in Des Moines, this is because more noses are closer to smells, but in other places, residents are pushing more for changes.

“It’s very common at this juncture of animal farming in general and meat packing plants or feed processing plants,” Kozel said. “It’s very difficult. For us engineers, we know there are techniques to minimize the impact, but then come all the financial realities to do that.”


In Des Moines, residents and workers for decades have complained about smells coming from an industrial estate just over a mile from downtown, describing the smell as putrid or similar to animal droppings. Brown takes a more benevolent view, describing the scent as “yeast.”

People usually blame two companies: Pine Ridge Farms Pork Processor and Darling Ingredients Factory. Although the city set up a scent board and a scent hotline, its efforts were ineffective and largely abandoned until recently, when people who moved into expensive apartments that replaced warehouses and scrap yards complained of the foul odors periodically settling on the revive them.

City officials agree there is a problem, but say they need more data before deciding what to do.

“You have to figure out what the truth is out there, and then make the plans work for every sector of the industry,” said SuAnn Donovan, deputy director of the Department of Neighborhood Services in Des Moines. The new study will take air samples and establish a baseline for air quality.


Iowa is an agricultural powerhouse, and Donovan is quick to note that the city wants to work with Pine Ridge, Darling, and other businesses.

Darling did not respond to an inquiry about her operations in Des Moines.

Pine Ridge Farms is owned by meat maker giant Smithfield, which said in a statement that its pig meat production plant, which employs about 1,000 people, opened in 1937 and slaughters about 4,000 pigs a day. As more people move nearby, the company said it has invested millions of dollars in new technology, such as air treatment equipment to reduce bad odors.

“We also follow a strict daily cleaning schedule during and after each production run,” the statement said. “Every weekend, we do a deep clean from top to bottom to keep odor to a minimum.”

Even with efforts to reduce odors, rendering is a particularly stinging act. Plants use heat, centrifuges, and other technologies to turn animal tissue waste into fats and proteins for many uses, including animal feed, fertilizer, and cosmetics. There are more than 200 plants in the United States and Canada, according to recent estimates.


In Fresno, California, a group of citizens sued a Darling display plant that produced an unpleasant odor so strong that residents complained of health problems. Last year, the company agreed to close the plant. Another rendering plant near the Sacramento suburb of Rancho Cordova, which had been in operation for more than 50 years, also chose to close after concluding that it could not coexist with new neighboring housing.

Serving plants in an industrial estate in Los Angeles have been ordered to adhere to strict new rules. And in Denver, where new urban development was particularly extensive, there were severe clashes between the new residents and old industries.

“People who move to the city are smart and not afraid to complain,” said Greg Thomas, the city’s director of environmental quality.

Residents of South St. Paul, Minnesota, filed a class action lawsuit over fumes from the rendering plant, and neighbors received up to $1,000 as part of a $750,000 settlement.


However, the smells of rotten meat still lingered.

The suit doesn’t seem to make a difference,” said Chris Robinson, who lives less than a mile from the factory. “Just last night, my husband couldn’t even sit on the deck. Still a really bad thing.”

Brown, of Des Moines, said that with new outdoor projects underway, from a soccer field to a white-water paddle board, the city has no choice but to clean the air.

“You don’t want the smell to pollute the experience,” Brown said.


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