DeFoor to call in EPA as Murray Hill smell continues

As Murray Hill residents continue to smell a toxic odor that wafts through their neighborhood at night and in the early mornings, the City of Jacksonville Environmental Quality Division has managed to put together an “enforcement package,” against a local company that may be the culprit causing the offensive smell. However, unsure whether the City’s enforcement division will be able to rectify the situation, District 14 City Councilwoman Randy DeFoor has also called for a meeting with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In a virtual meeting held Nov. 2 by the Murray Hill Preservation Association, Melissa Long, chief of the City’s Environmental Quality Division, said her division has been in communication with IFF – International Flavors & Fragrances, Inc., which is located at 2051 North Lane Avenue – about the foul smell.

“They don’t believe they have any leaks in their product line,” said Long, referring to IFF. “They said if anything, it might be from their wastewater system that is open to the atmosphere. They are taking a look at that right now.”

Long said even though her division had finally accrued enough verified reports from separate households within a 90-day window to be able to send a “packet” along to the City’s enforcement division, she still encouraged residents to continue to notify the city when they smell the odor. To register a complaint, residents need to either call 630-CITY or get into the MyJax system by emailing their concerns to myjaxcusthelp.com. All complaints should include the resident’s name and contact information so the City can contact them and verify the smell, she said, noting that additional verified complaints can be added to the enforcement package.

“It’s taken a little while to get the enforcement package together and submitted, but last week they are taking a look at it and asking a lot of questions,” Long said. “I don’t know if the whole package will stay together or not. I want everyone to know if you do continue to experience odors, we want you to call in. We got several last night. I hate that we couldn’t get anyone out there to find out what the smell was last night,” she said, noting that 30 complaints were called into the City on Sunday, Nov. 1, a time when no one was on duty to verify the smell.

“We need to isolate exactly what area in this facility the odors are coming from and figure out a remedy and a reasonable schedule for them to implement whatever the remedy is.”

— Melissa Long, chief of the City’s Environmental Quality Division

Shane Brisentine, a Murray Hill resident, said he filed one of the complaints Nov. 1, after he noticed it while returning to his neighborhood from a visit to St. Augustine. 

“Last night was horrible. I took video. The sky was clear, but as soon as I got off the ramp from Route 10 to Route 17, I started smelling it. Then as soon as I peeled off of 17 to turn onto Edgewood Avenue there was a fog over our neighborhood. It was so strong I was wheezing when I got home.  This company knows that nothing can be done if it is happening at night. It’s like a big ‘FU’ to the city and the neighborhood,” Brisentine said. “It was not a wastewater smell, it was chemical. It was the same stuff I smell most of the time. I cannot stress enough that the city needs to take it seriously. My doctor thinks that my recent reboot of my asthma issues is related to this.”

In responding to Brisentine, Long said the smell was “wastewater” but not a wastewater smell that might emanate from a treatment plant run by the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA). “It’s their wastewater, and it does have a chemical smell,” she said, referring to IFF. She also said the City is trying to work with IFF, but that the company was denying the smell.

“It’s hard to find out what is causing the odor and what remedies there are,” she said. “That’s the next step. We need to isolate exactly what area in this facility the odors are coming from and figure out a remedy and a reasonable schedule for them to implement whatever the remedy is. We do not have a remedy. It has to come from experts that are in that type of field. It’s a little bit of a slow process. I wish I could say it will happen tomorrow, but it will take a little bit of time,” she said, noting the enforcement division currently has attorneys scrutinizing the verified complaints so if the City needs to go to court, its case will stand up.

District 14 City Councilwoman Randy DeFoor wasn’t happy with Long’s answer. “I think this company is gaming the system,” she said, adding that the smell is not new and that folks working in City Hall have told her it has been occurring off and on for many years. “They do it early in the morning and late at night knowing you guys aren’t available to respond within four hours. When you get there, it’s all gone, and they know it. I know there is a criminal component. When I worked in the state attorney’s office years ago, we actually prosecuted companies for this very thing. You should explain that to them.”

In response, Long said her division is administrative and does not handle criminal investigations. If there is reason to believe there is criminal activity, the City would probably need to hand over the packet to investigators from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which holds IFF’s permit. “DEP says there is nothing wrong. There is nothing to cause the odor (at IFF), she said.

But DeFoor was still not satisfied. She insisted her assistant, Brooks Dame, contact EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) for a meeting to discuss the problem. “There is something going on. That’s gaslighting. I’ve had constituents call me from Talbot saying their face is burning,” she said. “We will bring EPA in.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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