As the city of Joplin drafts an odor ordinance, a Neosho based law firm tries to drum up support for a class action lawsuit.
Its goal is to get companies to remediate problems and compensate residents who can't sell or rent or truly enjoy their homes
"You never know when it’s gonna stink." Joyce Sherwood-May has proven odor problems exist in her backyard. That’s also where you can see Jasper Food Products.
"God forbid you have your windows open," exclaims Joyce.
She was the first to complain about odors and said they’ve been around at least five years. But she signed a complaint that resulted in the Department of Natural Resources citing that company twice just last year.
Now, she, like four thousand other Joplin residents received a letter from Neff and Day attorneys about a possible class action lawsuit against another industry, Protein Solutions. Terry Neff contends residents home values are being impacted along with the ability to enjoy their homes.
Joyce said that’s true. "We can’t use out back yard most of the time." And she added, “My dogs come in stinking all the time.”
She said complaints don’t readily get answered. “I have screamed and hollered about this. It does John Q. Public no good until the city finally decides the city has an odor problem.”
In an emailed statement , protein solutions says :
"We utilize state-of-the-art equipment to mitigate odor and employ best practices to ensure our plant is properly controlled. Protein solutions is proud to state that we operate within all state and local regulations."
Terry Neff said the majority of complaints the law firm has received focus on Protein Solutions but if more respondents have concerns about other companies, there is a possibility of adding other industries to the lawsuit. But for now one company is the focus of the letter campaign.
But Joyce is not alone in complaining about odors. Cheezie’s restaurant manager, Jennifer Johnson, is worried odors offend customers. She's experienced bad smells herself.
Johnson said, "There was one time, I was heading towards Rangeline. I physically gagged. It was really bad." She added, “It concerns me that we've spent all this time and energy and money on making Joplin beautiful which is great, but doesn’t do a whole lot if it smells terrible.”
A Department of Natural Resources regional manager, Cindy Davies, said other companies have been cited more than Protein Solutions.
Davies explained, "Heartland Pet Foods were cited three times in the last couple years.
Protein solutions has had problems in the past but we haven't cited it since 2015."
Sherwood-May is willing to be part of a class action suit but she’s not sure it’s just one company to blame. And that’s part of the challenge for the city of Joplin as well. Health department director Dan Pekarek said its difficult to determine who is the culprit of the bad smells.
Pekarek explained, "With odor it can be a bit challenging. You have to isolate, if you can, what is the source." He added, “You can’t just go out and say you’re it. You’re gonna have to go, we have multiple entities all in the same area. We're gonna have to go out and literally check around each one of those entities to see if one of them or all of them might be violating the city ordinance at the same time.”
He also said weather has an impact. “Weather doesn’t cause the odor but certainly impacts how bad it’s gonna be, where it’s gonna be. And some of those days, how trace it.”
The city uses the same nasal ranger as used by DNR to gauge odor intensity. If an odor can be smelled at a seven to one ratio of air dilution, it is a violation of state law."
Pekarek drafted an odor ordinance that is being tweaked by the city attorney and city manager to be presented to the city council. It mimics state DNR regulations. Pekarek said, "We don’t want to do something that’s not gonna stand up in court."
Pekarek said the city has limited enforcement capability. Cases would go to city court where a judge’s fine is usually a maximum of five hundred dollars. So, he urges residents to call DNR.
"DNR doesn’t want a complaint from us. We get complaints and we'll forward them to DNR but for that to be an official complaint, it’s supposed to come from the actual citizen."
Jennifer has complained to the city thinking that was her best route but is willing to try another avenue. "If the city would post something about how to complain to the DNR, that would be awesome."
Davies with the DNR said residents can call a local number to file complaints and report odors for investigation. That number is 417- 891- 4300.
She said, “We will write up a concern and get there as quickly as possible to investigate.” And suggested citizens provide, “Information on where they're located in conjunction with the facility (ies) they believe are causing the issue. It’s helpful to us if they notice a pattern of odor occurring, days of week, times of day, are helpful to us. If there are distinctive odors something distinctive such as, it has burning smell or smells like wastewater. If there’s something distinctive it can help direct us to where its coming from.”
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