Source of Murray Hill odor issue still unresolved

City study continues

map showing dots for complaint locations

Since 2018, residents in Murray Hill have been complaining about noxious odors they describe similar to the scent of turpentine that they typically smell late at night, early in the morning and over weekends. Beginning in 2021, the complaints dramatically increased with residents in other urban neighborhoods such as Ortega, San Marco, Springfield and Brentwood also complaining about the smell.

Murray Hill residents contend that the odor is coming from an IFF factory located at 2051 North Lane Avenue, about five miles away. International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. 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. 

“It was a relief to read in Resident News about the ongoing odor problem, because now I know this is a real thing and not just something that only I was experiencing,” Jessica Jones said. Jones moved in February to the Westside in the Whitehouse area between I-95 and SR-23 and north of I-10.

“I know that the smell isn’t natural, because I get severe headaches from synthetic fragrances, and this stink gives me a headache,” she said.

She contacted the City to complain, and a staff person from the Environmental Quality Division (EQD) came to her house to follow up but couldn’t verify the complaint because she noticed it after work hours.

“On Sundays, in the evenings and most recently on Thanksgiving Day it was very strong,” she said.

The City’s EQD served IFF with a cease-and-desist citation on Dec. 11, 2020 and began working with IFF to resolve the matter. Three residents of Jacksonville’s historic neighborhoods filed a civil lawsuit on Jan. 12, 2021.

In July 2021, U.S. District Judge Brian Davis dismissed the civil lawsuit ruling that it didn’t belong in a federal court because all parties involved — both the citizens and the company — were all Florida residents.

In early 2022, the homeowners filed a class action lawsuit against IFF. On Sept. 21, Duval County Circuit Court Judge Robert Dees dismissed the nuisance lawsuit filed by the plaintiffs but did not dismiss a negligence complaint. However, Judge Dees did not dismiss the nuisance complaint with prejudice, so attorneys were allowed to refile that case in 21 days.

Meanwhile, in mid-February 2022, the City of Jacksonville installed sensors throughout Murray Hill and other locations throughout the city to help pinpoint the smells’ origin and who or what is responsible for them. It hired Envirosuite to conduct  24/7 monitoring through a 12-month study.

The study officially started in April 2022 and is scheduled to be completed a year later in April 2023. It enables the City to determine how odors move throughout the area during the day and night, particularly in early morning, overnight and on weekends, when its EQD staff is not physically available to respond and verify complaints.

Throughout this long aggravation, IFF has maintained that it is not the source of the reported odors.

“We are fully cooperating with the City of Jacksonville and remain in communication with the City regarding complaints of objectionable odors,” IFF spokesperson Michael Munz said.

The City of Jacksonville’s Code of Ordinances states that it is the City’s responsibility to provide its inhabitants with air that is pure, wholesome and free from objectionable odors that cause distaste or annoyance, or which unreasonably interfere with or impair the full use, benefit or development of the community. The Code further describes civil penalties may be assessed by administrative or judicial process of up to $10,000 for each violation. Applicants for a variance who knowingly make a false statement or provide false information and any person who aids or participates in a violation will be assessed a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each false statement or false item of information.

Local media, including Resident News, regularly report on the issue and encourage residents to call every time they experience the odor to provide the City with the most thorough and accurate data possible. The information gathered will provide valued feedback to both EQD and the Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board (EPB).

The monthly data being collected can be viewed at — Urban Odor Study. Total complaints in the past and current month, odor events in the past and current month, complaints by hour of the day and their locations, number of complaints per day and top complainants’ addresses are being collected. For example, the highest number of complaints in October came from 1754 Edgewood Ave. S, Jacksonville, FL 32205.

“The study has not been the silver bullet solution to identifying the source that we all had hoped for. Several of the sensors have malfunctioned or been renamed/reassigned,” Josh Gellers, Ph.D. LEED Green associate and associate professor of political science & public administration for UNF, said. “It would be hard at this point to distinguish one precise location where the chemical smell is emanating from. For instance, the last update from the October Environmental Protection Board Air Branch report states that ‘several of the VOC sensors have been reporting erroneous data. Envirosuite is considering replacing the affected sensors.’”

Geller reports that EPB is taking action against IFF for confirmed complaints made in September and October of 2021 that has now reached the stage of a consent order. The order requires IFF to install a hex floating cover on its wastewater tank and lists a compliance plan settlement fee of $14,997 to be paid to the City of Jacksonville.

In response to questions by Resident News about the status of the study, Caroline Adkins, public relations specialist for the City, said, “All reports are available at — Urban Odor Study. We will not have full results until the 12 months are up and it would be premature to comment prior to that.”

“We have seen a decrease in calls and emails with complaints about odor. We encourage neighbors to continue to report odors immediately when they smell them by phone or electronically,” said Randy DeFoor, City Council member for District 14, which includes Murray Hill.

Call 630-CITY (2489) or submit your complaint at Email [email protected] to help us keep our readers informed.

By Karen Rieley
Resident Community News

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