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July 19, 2007

Smells like success: Sewer-plant odor-control efforts seem to be working

The city's $4.6-million effort to control noxious odors emanating from the sewer treatment plant on Essex Avenue is nearly complete and seems to be working.

People who work and live to the north and south of the plant report much - though not complete - relief from the smells.

That's what was predicted when City Council and Mayor John Bell ended years of debate with a commitment to capture the malodorous gases in a biofilter system.

Summer is when the smells - primarily from hydrogen sulfide, the aroma of rotten eggs - have been most intense, owing to prevailing southerly breezes that pushed the gases from open tanks past businesses and homes.

With windows open and neighbors trying to spend time outdoors, the invisible gases, rolled past more human noses in July.

It was a lot of gas. The plant, which was built in the 1980s with six open tanks and two open channels, processes about 5 million gallons of untreated sewage a day.

Responding to years of pleas from long-suffering neighbors who complained they were forced to close the windows and retreat inside, the city authorized the project in 2003. The bulk of the work was completed last fall.

But until this month, it was impossible to draw conclusions.

Now, complaints - which peaked in past Julys - are almost nonexistent, and the owner of the business closest to the plant, Tony's Mobil Mart (perhaps 50 yards away on the other side of Essex Avenue), believes the work was successful.

"It's a little bit better, not 100 percent, but they achieved what they were after," Jim Taliadoros said yesterday.

Taliadoros' name comes up most often in In the files of complaints kept as the as the project went forward, .

"His nickname," said city environmental engineer Christine Millhouse, is "the odor ambassador."

Gaspar Lafata, a former city councilor who lives about a quarter mile northwest of the plant on Birch Grove Heights, said the improvement is dramatic.

"No smell. It's great, whatever they did, they cleaned a lot of it up," Lafata said.

George Grammas, who lives on Western Avenue across from the Little League field just past Hough Avenue, the Stage Fort Park cut-through, about 100 yards from the plant, gave the odor control project mixed reviews.

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