Funky Town

Even though the EPA says Denver's air is getting cleaner, the odor lingers on.

And now one of these monitors has shut down entirely. Tri-County officials say they are scuttling the department's air-quality division because of a lack of state funds. They are turning their scentometers over to the state.

Jill Cooper, legal administrator for the Air Pollution Control Division of the state health department, stresses that with the creation of NEMIC the state "did not delegate any of our enforcement authority to this group." But she acknowledged NEMIC effectively makes Reg 2 a "backup," one that hasn't been used against a company since the creation of the council.

The only exceptions are hog-farm polluters. Billionaire Philip Anschutz, who owns property adjacent to a hog farm in Weld County, led a successful effort to convince state legislators to tighten Reg 2's odor restrictions -- but only for hog farms. The law took effect in 1999; consequently, Reg 2 has 46 pages of hog-farm rules, compared to a single page of standards for all other odor sources. Needless to say, the population of northeast Denver has no known billionaires pushing legislation on its behalf.

Mike Gorman
Ken Kage says that some of the objection to his rendering plant is a knee-jerk response.
John Johnston
Ken Kage says that some of the objection to his rendering plant is a knee-jerk response.

Not that the legislature is required to strengthen Reg 2. The state health department has the option of strengthening the regulation on its own. Says Cooper, "Ultimately, if we decide NEMIC is not being effective, we would fall back to re-looking at the regulation and strengthening it."

Cooper, who declines to comment on whether NEMIC has been effective, acknowledges that Reg 2 "could be more detailed, and it could probably be more effective."

NEMIC chairman Creamer says his voluntary coalition has been successful at reducing the BS, a claim even some of the odor activists say is accurate. And, in theory, if general air quality has improved in recent years, then at least some of the smell has likely been reduced as well. Still, some say significant change will not occur without state action.

"I know NEMIC has really tried to make some honest efforts to address the problem," says Ortega. "But until Reg 2 is changed, all of those efforts will not make a real impact to the serious odor problems."

Creamer says that he understands the frustration of residents and that he, too, once lived in a neighborhood swamped by factory odors: "It wasn't much fun. You have to work around frequency of the odors, and it can be an emotional type issue for many people."

While Creamer says NEMIC is not opposed to changing Reg 2, he says he doubts strengthening the regulation will eliminate the stench.

"I think NEMIC is reacting to odors below what Reg. 2 would be changed to," he says. "Quite frankly, I don't care if a complaint meets the odor regulation or not. If it's a complaint, it's a complaint, and we'll work on each complaint."

Even if the regulation were strengthened, there's still the problem of subjectivity. Cooper, who co-wrote the stringent hog-farm odor restrictions, says she's confident there is an enforceable solution.

"Controlling odors through the regulatory process is challenging," she says, "but not impossible."

Some continue to be amazed at this lack of change. Take Christopher Pride, for instance. While working on the odor issue, the industrious eighth-grader attended NEMIC meetings and quizzed factory representatives, and handed out fliers and hotline numbers. He even wrote an article about the BS for a local environmental newsletter, saying, "On some days when I get out of school I feel so sick from these smells. Even when I'm at school the smells sneak through the windows and make my classmates and myself unable to work, to concentrate."

So far, though, Pride has found NEMIC's responses unsatisfying. When he asks a question at a NEMIC meeting, the answers are detailed and long-winded - all about weather systems and establishing violation patterns and how it's the responsibility of residents to call complaint lines...all answers that come to the same conclusion: His neighborhood stinks, and it's going to continue to stink.

Pride doesn't understand the odor regulatory process of local and state health departments. He doesn't know about the inefficiency of Reg 2's 29-year-old standards, or about the chummy relationship that state regulators have with factory owners. Nonetheless, he has his opinions about the Big Stink.

"Some people say the factories should move, but I don't think they should, because they'll just impact another environment. The [odor-reducing] technology gets better day by day, so I'm sure there's something they could come up with to fix the problem."

"People in Denver shouldn't have to get used to this," he concludes. "They should do something about it."

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