Odor returns to Council agenda

Published 10:20 pm Wednesday, February 3, 2010

About a dozen Nansemond Parkway and Wilroy Road-area residents turned up Wednesday to glean information from a staff report on the mysterious odor that has permeated the area in the last few months.

City staff members and representatives from the Southeastern Public Service Authority landfill and BASF (formerly Ciba Chemical Co.) gave a report on the status of the investigation of the odor. Since the onset of cold weather, many residents have reported a strange odor throughout the area. Some report that it smells like rotten eggs. Others say it is more like natural gas, and still others report other possible sources of the odor.

Several residents have been sickened by the stench, including Michele Castleberry, whose property backs up to the BASF site.


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“I’ve had migraines,” Castleberry said after Wednesday’s City Council meeting. Castleberry also reported becoming nauseated when the smell wafts her way, and her mother, visiting from North Carolina this week, had burning and watery eyes and burning in her throat upon smelling it Sunday.

“We had what I consider to be the worst evening of it yet [on Sunday],” Castleberry said.

Councilman Leroy Bennett, whose property backs up to the SPSA landfill, also said he became sick Sunday.

Suffolk Fire Chief Mark Outlaw said the city’s 911 lines received seven calls referencing the smell between Dec. 4 and Jan. 20. At nearly every call, firefighters checked the surrounding area with gas monitors and found no hazardous levels of natural gas, Outlaw said.

At the Jan. 20 incident, a caller in the 2100 block of Wilroy Road reported smelling a “glue smell.” Firefighters went to BASF’s facilities nearby, and found that about 50 pounds of a chemical used in the manufacturing of glue had been spilled, but the spill had been cleaned up.

“We have corrected the issue we had,” said Patrick Hochstrasser, the manager of the BASF site on Wilroy Road. He acknowledged his staff could have responded better to the spill, including notifying the fire department so it would know of the spill if it received any calls.

SPSA employees outlined several odor-producing facilities on its site, including the landfill, the leachate tanks and the storm water collection areas. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has visited the site on four occasions and detected no odor, said Rowland Taylor, SPSA director.

“It’s just like going to the dentist,” Bennett said. “Sometimes when your tooth is hurting and you get to the dentist, it stops.”

City officials plan a community meeting, as well as meetings with industrial representatives from the area to identify the source of the smell, Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts said.

The key to identifying the source of the smell is to call the Department of Environmental Quality immediately when the smell is present. The number to report odor problems 24 hours a day is 1-800-468-8892. Residents also can help by recording information such as time of day, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure and humidity level when they smell the odor. Phone numbers for David Sellers, an air inspector with DEQ who has been assigned to the issue, are 518-2113 or 581-0462.