Murray Hill residents hopeful sensors will identify source of foul odor

More than a year and a half after complaints began increasing markedly about what some Murray Hill residents describe as a “sickly sweet” odor and others describe as a chemical, “paint-stripping” smell, the City of Jacksonville has installed sensors throughout the neighborhood that it hopes will pinpoint the origin of the smells and who or what is responsible for them. The City hired Envirosuite to conduct 24-7 monitoring through a 12-month study.

The process uses strategically positioned ambient sensors without needing to send people out for on-site inspections or hiring expensive consultants. Thirteen sensors and two weather stations to determine the effect of wind direction are included in this research.

The equipment was installed during the week of Feb. 14-18, according to Caroline Adkins, public information officer for the City of Jacksonville.

“Over the past year, the Environmental Quality Division has continued to respond to complaints and investigate to determine the source. There have been several verified and validated complaints. The study will help us determine how the odors move throughout the area during the day and night, even when EQD is not available to respond,” Adkins said.

News4Jax reported that during the last two years, the city received 2,869 complaints of terrible smells, and the complaints started picking up in the summer of 2020. But some Murray Hill residents say that the smell has been around much longer than that.

“I’ve been smelling it for at least four years, maybe longer,” Susan Cummings, who has lived in Murray Hill since 2014, said. “It hits me as soon as I walk out the door, particularly first things in the morning. It’s a very toxic, chemical smell that I know has to be bad for me, and you can’t get away from it.”

Cummings works in Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center and says she is concerned about the danger of a toxic smell.

“I want to know what I’m breathing in and how bad it is for me,” she said. “I’ll get a gas mask if I have to. My husband and I love Murray Hill. I’m 65, and I’m not moving again, but I don’t want any more exposure to carcinogens than I’m already getting in life.”

Joshua Gellers is a board member of Murray Hill Preservation Association and faculty member of the University of North Florida’s Political Science & Public Administration Department.

“I think the sense around the community is that the installation of these new sensors is a real game-changer in terms of being able to identify the source of the chemical smell,” Gellers, who represents MHPA on the odor issue, said. “At the same time, a lot of our neighbors are extremely frustrated about the time it has taken to get to this point and the fact that the study won’t conclude for another year. The chemical smell has been around for years, and progress addressing it has been slow.”

Residents think the odor is coming from an IFF factory located at 2051 North Lane Avenue, about five miles away. IFF is a global fragrance company that uses by-products from the paper-making process to make ingredients for fine fragrances and products for personal, fabric and home care. The sulfur and turpentine used in its processes are discharged in wastewater.

The company has denied that its factory is the source of the odor. It hired Golder Associates in October 2020 to help identify the odor and determine if it is coming from their plant. Golder concluded that IFF is in compliance and that another factory is more likely the culprit of the odor, Holland & Knight, the attorney firm representing the company, said in August 2021.

But residents have expressed concern that Golder Associates was compensated by IFF for the study that was conducted and that IFF was made aware of the times when Golder would be conducting sampling.

“My observation is that once people began complaining about the smell, it began occurring at different times instead of only in the early morning,” Cummings said. 

“The smell happens regularly but at random times,” Hillary Leverone said. Leverone works for the local chapter of IATSE Local 115, which represents theatrical stage employees. She recently moved to Jacksonville and rents a home in Murray Hill.

“I’ve made the mistake a couple of times of falling asleep with my windows open, and then I’m awakened by the smell and with a splitting headache. I found an article from a couple of years ago reporting that a company had been hired to find the source of the smell, but the company was being paid by the factory that might be the source of the odor. I feel better that the City is doing the study.”

“I love our neighborhood and our house that was built in 1938,” Cummings said. “I live four miles from my work. We have the art market, art and science museum, lots of kids and people of all ages, many community events, a park and other outdoor activities. If we want Murray Hill to become more vibrant and inviting, we can’t have that toxic smell.”

“I’m from New York City. I know about smells and pollution, and one of the things I like about Jacksonville is that we’re not like other big cities,” she said. “I’m very grateful for what the City is doing with the sensors.

“I just hope they can come to some conclusions,” Leverone said.

Murray Hill is not the only neighborhood to experience unpleasant odors. Residents in other urban neighborhoods such as Ortega, San Marco, Springfield and Brentwood have registered complaints.

“The Envirosuite study will benefit various neighborhoods within the urban area of Jacksonville. It is not just for one neighborhood,” Adkins said. “There are devices throughout the urban core.”

“We encourage citizens to continue making odor complaints despite the ongoing study,” Adkins said. “Citizens can call (904) 630-CITY or visit to file a complaint. This will help EQD pair the complaint with incoming data from the study.”

By Karen Rieley
Resident Community News

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