After hiring a consultant to conduct tests, a local chemical company is suggesting that it’s not responsible for the foul odors that have been plaguing Murray Hill and surrounding neighborhoods, but residents who have experienced the smell are far from convinced.
Jacksonville City Councilwoman Randy DeFoor, who represents Murray Hill, organized a virtual Town Hall on Thursday night to give concerned citizens the opportunity to hear from and ask questions of the city and International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. (IFF), the company many believe is behind the foul odors, which have been described as “noxious turpentine-like fumes.”
As University of North Florida professor and member of the Murray Hill Preservation Association Board of Directors Josh Gellers explained, the smell has been plaguing the area for years.
“Our community is suffering from a grave and persistent environmental injustice,” he said. “As a result of the chemical odor, our neighbors have experienced a number of negative health impacts, including skin burning sensations, coughing, shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches, nausea, asthma attacks and insomnia."
“Adults, children and pets alike have all been affected,” Gellers went on to say. “My own wife battled a burning sensation on her face and instantaneous nausea one night, causing her to run to the bathroom while changing our infant daughter, who sleeps in a room where the chemical odors presence was most pronounced.”
Representatives of IFF said studies they have conducted do not indicate that the fragrance company is to blame.
“There are windblown sources of odor at IFF. Modeling and sampling did not indicate that IFF odor would be the source causing the increases in odor complaints and the physical reactions that have been described in them,” said Gage Miller, a senior environmental scientist with Golder Associates, the company hired by IFF to conduct odor studies. “Modeling and sampling does indicate that there are sources of odor closer to the areas of complaints that emit compounds known for contributing to odor issues.”
IFF was aware of the date that Miller was taking samples, but according to the company’s attorney, Stacy Watson May, the facility wouldn’t be able to control when it’s emitting odors. “We couldn't change that if we were trying to hide something,” she said.
The Department of Environmental Protection, which regulates air pollution emitting activities at the IFF facility, conducted its most recent compliance inspection in October and found nothing untoward.
However, many residents said they found it hard to believe the offensive odors weren’t coming from IFF.
“The smell that we have smelled directly in front of the facility is identical to the smell that we've been complaining about. So I find that a bit suspicious that it wouldn't be IFF,” said Jenny Lee Wright.
Angela Mann is eight months pregnant and said she has been “held hostage” in her home throughout her pregnancy due to the strong turpentine smell.
“I am a psychologist and I'm an expert in gaslighting and I have to say that I'm pretty offended by the presentation today,” she said. “It reminds me a lot of the discussion I had with IFF’s Environmental Quality Manager Rick Frain on October 1 when he suggested that the community investigate the barbecue truck in our neighborhood.”
A man who identified himself as J.A. Hobson said he was “appalled” by what he had heard from IFF.
“Any person with a nose and a shred of honesty would have no problem identifying IFF as a major source of these odors. Their attempts to claim otherwise and attempts to pin the blame on other small businesses are disgraceful and insulting to the community,” he said.
The city continues to investigate odor complaints and is working with IFF to resolve the issue.
“This isn’t the end, this is the beginning,” said Councilwoman DeFoor. “You have my word that we're going to continue to work towards finding a solution to ending the smell.”
The city is considering hiring a company to conduct a comprehensive year-long study to help pinpoint the source of the odors.