Fri January 4, 2013
Ooooh, That Smell

Odor Hotline Finds The Sweet Smell of Success

The city of Greeley has been waging war for 17 years with its smelly reputation. Thanks to an odor hotline Greeley has been able make great strides in eliminating several offenders and connected a 2011 spike in complaints to just one company.

The city has a perfect storm of ingredients that make it prone to stinky smells. It’s largely agricultural and has the dubious distinction of being surrounded by farmland, feedlots, and a meatpacking plant.

There’s also the city’s unique geography. Much of Greeley sits in a bowl. So when temperature inversions happen, air—and bad smells—settle in that bowl.

Sniffing Out Stinky Smells

Since the hotline was started in 1995, Greeley has gone from more than 600 complaints annually to just 25 last year. Throughout the decades, the front line of Greeley’s odor war has come in the form of descriptions left on the city’s tip line.

Tales of “old man breath,” “burnt chicken feathers,” and “dead rotting corpses set in rotting cheese then set on fire” have been left on the hotline over the years.

Other, less sardonic descriptions include:

  • "feedlot, road tar and stale water"
  • "sweet smelling chemical like fertilizer"
  • "like a bar serving poop in their food"
  • "unsure how to describe but not a cow odor, maybe drugs"
  • "bad sports shoes"
  • "chicken coop"
  • "sour milk"
  • "wet goose feathers"
  • "Downy"

City of Greeley Natural Resources Planner Karen Scopel says investigating odors can sometimes be complicated because people don’t know what they’re smelling.

“People in our community may not be familiar with certain types of odors. So they might be smelling feedlot. But if they don’t know that’s a feedlot, they might have a fairly odd description of it because they’re trying to relate it to something they know.”

Image of the Nasal Ranger in use from the product brochure
Credit St. Croix Sensory

For each call that comes in during regular business hours, a state-certified inspection officer is dispatched to the scene. These are trained workers who have taken a written and “sniff” test.

Workers use tools to measure the severity of the smell—called a nasal ranger. Scopel explains it looks like a radar gun that’s held up to your nose.

“It has a dial on it that you can adjust the amount of fresh air that goes through a carbon filter combined with the air that has an odor,” she says. “If we can still detect an odor when we diluted the odorous air with seven parts of fresh air, that could be a violation.”

Those instances are pretty rare, Scopel says. The other way a company or entity can get a violation from the city is if there are three or more confirmed complaints in a specific time period.

After a spike in 2011, the city tracked many complaints to JBS USA—a meatpacking plant on the northeastern edge of town. Since then, the company has made changes to internal operations. This spring JBS USA will build a new $1.5 million smokestack to reduce smells even further.

“People understand, we’ll never be odor free,” says Scopel. “But what we want to do is reduce the experiences of offensive odors as much as possible.”

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