‘Sour milk’ smell from compost facility concerns residents

by Michael Lee

  • <p>MICHAEL LEE PHOTO</p><p>From left, Blair Moland and Kenny Heim. Moland said he has closed his garage seven times this year because of the smell coming from the nearby compost site.</p>

A terrible smell from the compost facility in Whynotts Settlement has forced at least one business owner to close several times and caused a resident of the area to become physically ill.

Residents say they were exposed to a particularly bad "sour milk" smell on August 30 after staff at the Lunenburg Regional Community Recycling Centre on Mullock Road began turning compost at the site.

"I never smelled that before, it was unbelievable," said Blair Moland, who runs a salvage business on Whynacht Road.

Moland said he has closed his business seven times this year because of the smell, which was especially bad two weeks ago, but has been an ongoing problem for years.

"It's actually affecting our business. It's time that something is done."

His wife Michelle Fitch said the smell has been disrupting their lives. "It's physically making us nauseated," she said.

They and other residents say the smell may come up once every week or two.

One woman on Leary Fraser Road, who asked not to be named, said she threw up twice on August 30 after trying to get her cat inside of her house.

"I have never smelt anything like that before," she said.

She said there is usually some smell coming from the compost, but this time time, "it was beyond that."

The facility's site manager Kevin Wentzell said the compost in question had not been turned in a couple of months due to complaints from across the lake to the north.

When the pile was turned on August 30, the wind happened to be blowing in the opposite direction.

"It's unfortunate," he said. "It's nasty material to deal with."

He said the compost is kept outside so the bacteria can get enough oxygen to break it down, however, it isn't turned as much as it should because of the wind and complaints from residents.

Wentzell said he understands the community's concerns, but stressed that the compost can't be buried, and if it gets wet or isn't turned, the smell gets worse.

"What now we can do I really don't know."

A spokesperson for Nova Scotia Environment said the department did receive a complaint about the smell and an investigation was ongoing, however, she did not provide any further details.

This isn't the first time Nova Scotians have had to deal with smells from their compost sites.

A municipal councillor in Sydney says he will ask the municipality to move its compost facility in light of complaints from residents.

In Whynotts Settlement, there are concerns the smell may affect the health and safety of staff at the facility and those who live nearby.

"Every time they stir that it's enough to make you sick," said Kenny Heim, who works at Moland's garage.

Heim said when the garage closes, he has to make up for the lost time at work and that his sinuses, which he has had surgery on, get infected whenever the smell comes. "It's a sin for the people around."

Wentzell said he has never gotten sick from the compost and isn't aware of any workers who have, adding the centre stopped burying its material, which risked leeching into the groundwater table, and hasn't incinerated since 1994.

He also said they stopped composting biosolids, such as sludge from wastewater treatment plants, about two years ago.

There is no denying the smell, he said, but added, "It's not as toxic to the environment as we did in the past."

The centre hopes to have a new building in the coming months, which will keep some of the compost indoors, while a new curing pad may help expedite the decomposition process and reduce the smell.

But short of putting the facility in the middle of nowhere, Wentzell said no place is good.

Meanwhile, Moland said he understands the people at the site are trying to do their best, but he feels the concerns from him and others are "falling on deaf ears."

"When you're making people sick, there's something wrong."

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