Denver, CO

Denver diligently monitors bad smells

David Heitz

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By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Denver takes foul smells seriously.

"Report those odors!" councilwoman Candi CdeBaca recently posted on her Facebook page. She shared a post from Ana Varela from the Elyria David neighborhood Facebook group.

Varela said the smell from the Purina dog food plant has become especially vile. But she expressed joy in her post that the city took her odor complaint seriously. Varela reported the smell to 311 and received a written response the same day.

The state sets thresholds for smells, but according to the workers who investigated Varela's complaint, the smell from Purina that day did not violate guidelines.

The city employs two state-certified environment investigators who investigate odors. "At the time of our visit, my colleague and I noticed that the pet food odor seemed stronger a bit east of your street," a city employee emailed Varela. "Please do continue to let us know when the Purina odors seem the strongest." The response noted recent windy conditions made it difficult for city employees to get a good reading.

'Nasal ranger' can sniff anything

The city has a device that measures odors. "Our investigators focus on odor-producing industries and use a device called a 'nasal ranger' to measure the odor strength in the air," explained Amber Campbell, communications and marketing coordinator with the Department of Public Health and Environment.

The email from the city to Varela said they reached out to Purina to let them know of the complaint. They asked Purina to report back regarding the status of their odor control systems.

Campbell said the plant has invested in technology to reduce odors, "including where the wet pet food is dried into crunchy kibble."

The Purina problem, encampment stench

Complaints about Denver's Purina plant aren't unique. Residents complain about a similarly smelly Purina dog food plant in Davenport, Iowa. Neighbors describe the smells wafting from the pet food factories as the stench of death.

People who live near homeless encampments have complained to the City Council of odors of human waste and illegal drugs. The city recently assembled a civilian Street Enforcement Team to write tickets to people in homeless encampments breaking various laws, but odor violations won't be among them.

"Street enforcement doesn't fall under our department," Campbell prefaced, "But no, they will not be issuing odor penalties."

Campbell said you must be certified to do so. "We have not received any odor related complaints for encampments so far and the enforcement team will probably refer any concerns to us on a case-by-case basis."

RTD security guards at Union Station sometimes ask people experiencing homelessness to put their shoes on to cut down on odors in the terminal.

Why Denver smells like pot

Tickets seldom are issued for odors, Campbell said. Most complaints refer to industrial plants like Purina and marijuana operations. "We work to educate the reported facility and rectify any issues leading to complaints," Campbell said. "If they are uncooperative, which is rare, then we pursue citations."

Odor complaints vary with the weather and especially the wind, Campbell said. From 2014 to 2016, the city received more odors complaints than ever before. The complaints referred to odors coming from marijuana grow facilities. In 2015, the city received 200 odor complaints, and 125 were about marijuana.

Campbell said between five and 10 citations went to marijuana facilities during the past few years for not complying with previously agreed to odor control plans.

As for complaints about people smoking pot outside, Denver police enforce those violations. Smoking pot in public is illegal in Colorado except in establishments with special licenses.

How to report odors

If you want to report an odor, don't wait. You must report smells within 24 hours. You can call 311 in Denver or (720) 913-1311 outside the city and press option one. Or, download the Odor Upset Report form. Complete the form and send it to EQcomments@denvergov.org.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

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