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Factory's Foul Stench Has Evanston Neighbors Demanding A Solution; 'Don't Take No For An Answer'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Imagine opening your front door and getting smacked in the face by a stench. A foul odor often descends on a neighborhood in Evanston, and CBS 2 Morning Insider Lauren Victory went inside their fight against the fumes.

It's a quiet, but growing pocket of Evanston near the city's West End. As younger families move in, so is a feeling of camaraderie.

"Once we started sending some community-wide emails, it was something that we realized was a greater problem," Evanston resident Jeff Parker said of the stink plaguing the neighborhood.

Worried parents began to bond over a stench that permeates the area.

"You leave your house, and you're hit with a very strong asphalt chemical smell," Parker said.

Evanston resident Mike Boll filed complaints about the asphalt smell he said is caused by the Tapecoat Co. factory, located across the alley from his back yard.

"I can smell it in the front yard when I come home from work. It's really bad," he said. "I'll pet the dogs, and I'll smell it on my hands."

Complaints about the stench initially fell flat, as Cook County inspectors found no odors on multiple visits.

"This kind of gave me a lesson in 'Don't take no for an answer,'" Boll said.

He flagged down the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. CBS 2 got hold of a Bureau of Air Investigation report from February, when representatives from Tapecoat acknowledged odor issues.

By April, an email between Tapecoat parent company Chase Corporation, Evanston leaders, and the Illinois EPA detailed possible solutions; including a carbon absorption chamber, odor masking technology, and odor neutralizing chemistry.

Neighbors notices a change this spring.

"What they've tried is basically to spray what smells like Febreze into the air with the exhaust," Boll said. "It's not really fixing the problem. It's just making two smells instead of one smell."

Families kept pressing and started to track asphalt odors on a community log, filing more than 100 entries between May and November.

Six months after the state inspection, Tapecoat was hit with an air pollution violation. The notice specifically mentioned numerous citizen complaints.

While Chase Corporation declined requests for an on-camera interview, they did write back a pretty interesting email. The CEO said if exhaustive and costly efforts don't work in the next six months, "we will halt production of the product at this location."

"That would be great," Boll said.

Parker said he'll believe it when he sees it, or more precisely when he doesn't smell it anymore.

"I think we've all banded together enough that it's no longer going to fly under the radar," he said.

Evanston's health director said no one has tested the air yet, but the city will follow the direction of the state. The Illinois EPA said Tapecoat's odor situation is an ongoing enforcement issue.

The Illinois Attorney General's office could take on the case if the EPA ultimately determines Tapecoat isn't trying hard enough to eliminate the stench.

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