Stopping Nuisance Odor
TIPS FOR STOPPING NUISANCE ODORCEDS has been helping people stop nuisance odor for more then three decades. Following is the approach we’ve found to be most effective. The approach works with odor coming from a neighbor, a landfill, a farm, or other sources. And the best part is you can pursue this approach on your own without having to hire CEDS or other professionals. In the following paragraphs the person(s), business or agency causing light trespass is referred to as the responsible party.
Talk with the Responsible PartyYour first step should always be direct contact with those you believe to be causing the nuisance odor – the responsible party. Usually the responsible party is obvious: a neighbor, a waste facility, etc. Frequently, just bringing a nuisance odor to the responsible parties attention can get corrective action going. If the odor is coming from larger businesses, a government agency, etc. then it’s usually best to first go right to the top – the business owner-manager or agency director. Frequently, its the folks at the top who are most sensitive to the negative publicity that comes with causing harm to the public. These are the folks who also have the greatest authority to resolve the issue. Getting to these CEOs can be difficult, but it’s worth a try since you’ll usually end up speaking with someone higher up in the organization.
Be Reasonable & PositiveWhen approaching the responsible party present your concerns along the following positive, nonthreatening lines…
“Hi. My neighbors and I having troubled by some very unpleasant odor. We believe the odor may be coming from your property (business). If this is correct then I’d like to see if there’s a way the odor can be reduced so it doesn’t affect me and my neighbors.”
Don’t Insist on Just One SolutionThere are usually several ways to resolve nuisance odor. Occasionally folks get wedded to the first solution they think of and resist any other approach. Don’t make this mistake. Instead remain open to all solutions as you work with the responsible party to find that which works best for both of you.
Will a Solution Stop Nuisance Odor?If a nuisance odor solution is proposed then do some research to verify effectiveness. One of the best ways to verify effectiveness is to talk to those living near locations where: 1) residents were plagued by a similar nuisance odor and 2) the solution was applied. Those proposing a solution should be able to provide a list of these locations. Visiting these locations several times will give you an indication of how well the odor has been suppressed. If you suspect the odor may be intermittent then try talking to those living nearby. After explaining that you are suffering from the same nuisance most residents will freely share their perception of how well the solution has worked. If you have difficulty reaching the residents then CEDS can assist you with other approaches that have worked in difficult situations. To discuss how CEDS can help contact us at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.
File A ComplaintIf the responsible party seems unconcerned or doesn’t perceive the odor as offensive, resist the natural urge to argue or threaten which can make resolution more difficult. Sometimes those often exposed will become desensitized to a nuisance odor. They simply may no longer sense it as offensive or ever smell the odor. This is common with odors such as the rotten-egg of hydrogen sulfide. So, if the reasonable first approach doesn’t work, then file a complaint. With odors that may indicate an emergency situation, like the odor of natural gas, place a call to the local police. For other nuisance odors contact your local zoning or code enforcement agency. Of the 3300 town, city or county codes in the Municode library, most contain laws regarding nuisance odor. These laws are usually enforced by a local zoning or code enforcement agency. For odors coming from a source regulated by your state, like a landfill or wastewater treatment plant, a complaint could be filed with the environmental protection agency. You can usually find these agencies through an online search using keywords like:
- the name of your town, city or county, and
- zoning enforcement, or
- code enforcement, or
- odor, nuisance odor or odor complaint.
Those Frustrating, Intermittent Nuisance OdorsIt is not uncommon for odors to occur infrequently and to vary in intensity. Getting a nuisance odor resolved is more difficult if zoning or code enforcement agency inspectors cannot detect the odor. This situation becomes even more frustrating if repeated inspections fail to document the nuisance odor. Sometimes this may be an issue where those who are frequently exposed to nuisance odor, like a landfill inspector, have become desensitized and simply cannot smell odors that you can. One option for dealing with intermittent nuisance odors is to begin an odor diary. The diary can be as simple as noting the date and time when you smell the odor along with odor intensity, what it smells like, weather, wind direction, etc. Recommendations for a more science-based odor diary can be found in the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services factsheet Community Member Assessment of Environmental Odors.
Identifying Odor SourcesIn most cases a nuisance odor source will be nearby and obvious. Examples of a not always so nearby or obvious source includes landfill and other waste facilities. In some cases landfill odors can be smelled at a distance of three miles. During the summer of 2021, the smoke from west coast fires could be seen and smelled 2,500 miles away on the east coast. This is another situation where keeping an odor diary can help pinpoint a source(s). Driving the roads in your area with frequent stops to roll down your car window can help identify an odor source. For a review of more sophisticated approaches for detecting nuisance odor sources see the California Air Resources Board White Paper Odor Complaints, Health Impacts and Monitoring Methods.
Seek Help from Local Elected OfficialsYour local elected officials, like a county, city or town council member, can get things done far more easily then most of us. Savvy elected officials know that responding to voter concerns is key to winning future elections. They have influence with agencies like zoning-code enforcement that can accelerate resolution. So, if you are dissatisfied with the action taken on your complaint then contact the local elected official(s) who represent you. You can usually find your local elected representative through an online search using keywords like:
- the name of your town, city or county, and
- town council or board, or
- city council, or
- county council, supervisors or commissioners,
There’s Strength in NumbersGenerally, the more people who support your position, the more likely a successful outcome. If your initial efforts to work with the responsible party and your local elected officials fail, then explore opportunities to increase the number of people who join with you in calling for action. For example, do others in your neighborhood find the nuisance odor objectionable? If yes then consider options, like the following, that show it’s not just you who want the nuisance odor stopped:
- Send a letter signed by you and others to the responsible party and/or elected official. In the letter describe the source of the nuisance odor, how it impacts all of you, and call for action,
- Invite an elected official or responsible party over one evening to experience the nuisance odor and to meet with a number of your neighbors, and/or
- See if you can get a local newspaper, radio-TV station or other media to cover the issue.
Give CEDS a CallIf the preceding actions fail to halt the nuisance odor then contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org. We’ll be delighted to spend a few minutes discussing options you may not have pursued. There will not be any charge for this brief initial discussion. And if we can’t nix the nuisance odor with this no-cost service, we can usually identify a strategy for getting it fixed for a fee as low as $300 to $500.
CEDS Good Attorneys NetworkThough it is seldom needed, there are occasions when the preceding tips fail to resolve a nuisance odor. An option of last resort is to retain an attorney to take actions such as:
- Sending the responsible party a lawyer-letter threating legal action, or
- Pursuing a nuisance action against the responsible party.
HOW DO NUISANCE ODORS AFFECT HEALTH?According to the New York State Department of Health Odors & Health webpage…
“Exposure to odors could result in health effects ranging from none, to mild discomfort, to more serious symptoms. Some chemicals with strong odors may cause eye, nose, throat or lung irritation. Strong odors may cause some people to feel a burning sensation that leads to coughing, wheezing or other breathing problems. People who smell strong odors may get headaches or feel dizzy or nauseous. If an odor lasts a long time or keeps occurring, it also could affect mood, anxiety and stress level.”The chemicals responsible for some odors can cause more severe health effects. For Example, the Washington State Department of Health webpage regarding Hydrogen Sulfide, which has a rotten-egg odor, noted…
“Some people have greater sensitivities than others to the potential effects. Low concentrations may irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and respiratory system. Asthmatics may experience difficulty in breathing. Moderate concentrations can cause more severe eye and respiratory irritation, headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. Brief exposures to high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide can cause loss of consciousness, coma, and possible death.”Solid waste landfills, especially those with a large volume of construction-demolition debris, are prone to releasing hydrogen sulfide. A number of other air pollutants are also released from landfills. A review of 14 studies on the CEDS landfill webpage concluded…
“…that many of the 14 papers summarized above noted a small but statistically significant increased risk of adverse health effects among those living up to two-miles from municipal landfills. Adverse health effects may also be experienced by those living along the route travelled by trucks hauling waste to regional landfills. “A number of us find the odor of gasoline or diesel fuel objectionable. There is a large and growing body of science documenting that benzene and other gas station air pollutants can jeopardize the health of those living, working or learning within 500- to 1,000-feet.
HOW DO NUISANCE ODORS AFFECT PROPERTY VALUE?A 2005 study, Smelly Local Polluters And Residential Property Values: A Hedonic Analysis Of Four Orange County (California ) Cities, examined the effect of 81 polluters emitting odorous compounds and found that property value was decreased by an average of 3.4% within a quarter- to half-mile. Research presented in the CEDS landfill webpage shows that the odors and other impacts of…
“…a high-volume landfill (> 500 waste tons/day) reduces the value of adjacent residential properties by 12.9%. The impact of high-volume landfills decreases by 5.9% for each mile between a landfill and a residential property out to two- or three-miles. “In the 2015 study Animal Operations and Residential Property Values, the researcher found that confined livestock or poultry operations can:
- reduce property value by 5.1% to 26%, and
- properties abutting an animal operation may suffer an 88% loss.