Taking Action: Neighboring businesses critical of foul smells coming from northwest Huntsville plant

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - A northwest Huntsville waste treatment plant is creating a headache for neighboring businesses. The facility, at 107 Von Braun Drive, processes waste fluids such as industrial oils and contaminated groundwater.

The facility says it treats well over 100 million gallons of non-hazardous wastewater annually and repurposes more than 20 million gallons of used industrial oil recovered from its proprietary processes.  They promise to use the “best available pollution prevention technologies,” however, the folks working next door at Stoneridge Homes say it’s not working.

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"It’s very typical for me to take 12 to 20 Tylenol a week,” says Lisa Downs.  Other symptoms the workers suffer with are headaches, nausea, sore throats, inflamed eyes and rashes.

After two years of making complaints and not getting results with the City of Huntsville, the employees contacted WHNT News 19.

“This constant odor and smell, along with making everyone’s eyes water and severe headaches, it’s just not a great working environment right now,” Stoneridge owner Jim Wright explained.

WHNT News 19 visited the area several times over the course of a month. The odor was present every time, however on two occasions, it was overwhelmingly pungent and offensive. We also checked with other neighboring businesses, who tell us, they too are fed up with the smell.

We took our concerns and theirs and sat down with City of Huntsville’s Division of Natural Resources.  Director Daniel Shea says the first odor report came in March of 2013. He says he and his team have been out to the Valicor site more than 20 times.

“It’s an oily smell, it’s not a pleasant smell, but it’s not a horrible smell,” said Shea. “I certainly wouldn’t describe it as a rotten egg smell, because it does not have that reduced sulfur smell.”

But that response concerned us, because that’s the exact smell WHNT News 19 and Stoneridge Homes experienced. If that rotten eggs smell is indeed hydrogen sulfide, that wouldn’t be a good thing.  Here’s why: The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded "Hydrogen sulfide can reasonably be anticipated to cause chronic health effects in humans and can reasonably be anticipated to cause, because of its toxicity, significant adverse effects in aquatic organisms.”

Shea told WHNT News 19, if neighboring businesses have complaints against Valicor, they need to call the city.  He also says for the City of Huntsville to take action, they need to observe the smell first hand.

But there is another pressing issue, and the City of Huntsville is well aware of it.

Right now in Cincinnati, Ohio, a Valicor site that processes the same fluids as in Huntsville, is under the legal microscope.  That plant is facing a lawsuit from the City of Sharonville, claiming they’ve received an excess of sickening and offensive odor from the Valicor site.

And there’s another lawsuit involving dozens of plaintiffs whose symptoms are very similar to the ones the folks at Stoneridge Homes are suffering from.  And at the Cincinnati Valicor location, air testing was done. And the findings allege long term health effects with many of the chemicals deemed cancer causing.

You can check out the Cincinnati lawsuits and city complaint here.

WHNT News 19 did call Valicor and asked division President Dave Brown about the complaints in Huntsville. He claims the City of Huntsville only alerted him to one complaint.

Regardless, Brown has pledged to install new technology that he says will take care of 98% of the odor problem. He says the “Regenerative Thermal Oxidizers” (RTO) would cost a couple hundred thousand dollars and will be installed quickly. Brown also insists that Valicor emissions pass all exposure limits allowed, and that the cancerous chemical claims are false.

However, the attorney representing the plaintiffs in Ohio, William Gustavson, says additional testing was done after they too received the RTO’s, and the hazardous chemicals were still present.

WHNT News 19 promises to stay on top of this story and continue our efforts to get results.

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