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Bad Smells Contribute To Worsening Air Quality In Denver Metro Area

DENVER (CBS4)- Air quality data from across the country shows the Denver metro area has the fourth worst air quality in the country. That includes smelly air that contributes to the degrading air quality.

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Shelly Miller, Professor of Environmental Engineering with the University of Colorado in Boulder, has been looking into Colorado's air quality for years. Her extensive studies of Denver's Globeville neighborhood resulted in the city updating its odor ordinance. Her final study, released last spring, suggested that odors in north Denver were contributing to air pollution.

The report, in part stated, Odors from industrial sources is one type of air pollution that affects residents of these often-low-income communities physically and psychologically [5–10]. North Denver (CO, USA), which is impacted by emitted odors from the surrounding industrial facilities, is an example. Among North Denver neighborhoods, Globeville and Elyria-Swansea seem to be the most affected communities. Residents of the two neighborhoods have a long history of odor complaints. Between 2004 and 2017, Denver has received 1322 odor complaints.

CBS4 met with Professor Miller Tuesday to discuss the ongoing issues with odor as it relates to air pollution.

"What's complicated is that they [Denver] don't really have a lot of jurisdiction over sources that aren't in Denver. Like Copper, the asphalt company is not in Denver," said Miller.

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Shelly Miller (credit: CBS)

Odors from the asphalt company were a major source of complaints during Miller's research. Particularly in the Globeville area but because Denver's odor ordinance only applies to Denver smells, there isn't much the city can do.

"I know that a lot of people in Globeville were reporting that it would wake them up in the middle of the night it was so intense and they would have headaches and they would have respiratory issues and some neighbors just moved out of the neighborhood. They just couldn't take it anymore because of these odors."

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In Miller's report, she and co-author Dr. Mohamed Eltarkawe found these odors reduced quality of life and that, A regional cooperation to reduce odor problems in North Denver is highly recommended.

Miller's report found specifically that; pet food, refinery, roofing tar, dead animals/rendering, and sewage, were frequently reported odors in North Denver while in Greeley, residents often reported putrid, sewage, chemical and livestock odors.

The Suncor Oil Refinery recently received dozens of citations for air pollution compliance issues from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment. While it is one of the top pollutants in the area, it was not found to be the biggest odor offender.

It was the Purina plant.

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While Purina has done a lot to mitigate smells, it's still a prominent one among the Golbeville neighborhood.

"It's more than just the smell sometimes I think. Like sometimes, I get a little itch," said Lando Adams, a Globeville resident.

Adams, who was walking his dog, Jodi, says he goes out of his way to find areas sheltered by trees on days when the smell is strong.

Miller says the plant has been an active part of community discussions but believes more can be done.

"An air pollutant that's regulated, if it does still affect your neighbors, does that matter to you?" she asked.

Purina said in a statement Tuesday, "Purina is a proud member of the Denver community. We have demonstrated a strong employment history and have supported local families and community organizations for 90 years. We are always working to be the best neighbor we can be. Our employees enjoy living in Denver and also appreciate spending time outdoors with their families, including their pets. Purina makes a variety of dog and cat food brands. Each product we make through our cooking process contains nutritional ingredients that contribute to the overall aroma of the food, similar to when you cook food for your family at home. Purina has made significant investments in the last decade to mitigate cooking aromas appropriate to our unique site layout, as well as the geography and weather patterns in Denver. These improvements have noticeably reduced the aromas from our pet food cooking processes."

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CBS4 also reached out to Suncor about its citations which stated via email, "I believe you are referring to the Compliance Advisory we received from the CDPHE which addresses events that were self-reported by Suncor. We are working with the CDPHE through its processes to resolve the Compliance Advisory."

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