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Jefferson Township residents express concern about smell from waste treatment plant

Members of the Jefferson Township & Surrounding Areas Neighborhood Environmental Committee wait for the press conference to begin in front of the Valicor plant.
Chris Welter
Members of the Jefferson Township & Surrounding Areas Neighborhood Environmental Committee wait for the press conference to begin in front of the Valicor plant.

Lawyers, public officials, and community members gathered in Montgomery County’s Jefferson Township this week in front of a long-scrutinized industrial waste treatment plant that recently transferred ownership. They were there to complain about the plant's smell, remind neighbors about a twenty four hour, seven day a week odor hotline, and plead with the new owners to be what they called “good neighbors.”

During the twenty minute press conference on Tuesday morning, trucks with industrial cleaning operation Allied Environmental and disposal giant WM (formerly Waste Management) logos drove into the Valicor Environmental Services plant on Cherokee Drive. It wasn’t clear what was in the trucks but people at the conference agreed that it smelled bad.

As an off-site waste and recovery operation, that’s the Valicor plant's business model. They receive (for a fee) certain wastes, used oil, and used solvents from off-site locations for storage, treatment, recovery, or disposal. The emissions that come from those processes are monitored by Montgomery County's Regional Air Pollution Control Agency.

RAPCA officials said in an interview with WYSO that they visit the plant at least one or two times a month, including every time they receive a complaint from the odor hotline.

Eileen Moran, the agency’s Senior Manager, said a bad smell doesn't necessarily mean the plant is violating any laws or regulations.

"You can't have an industrial process, or at least it's very rare to have one, that doesn't have some kind of odors associated with it,” Moran said. “As we come out of COVID and the shutdowns, and as facilities start to operate more and more, it will not be uncommon to observe the odors more."

Back in December, when the plant was under previous ownership, RAPCA found a hole in the ductwork around the plant’s regenerative thermal oxidizer–a piece of equipment that breaks down industrial solvents into carbon dioxide and water.

The hole has been fixed but people who live near the plant said the smell remains.

That's why local community members who formed the Jefferson Township & Surrounding Areas Neighborhood Environmental Committee years ago are upset. Longtime township resident Marian Perry spoke to the media on Tuesday.

"When I walk my dog in my neighborhood, I smell smells from this building,” Perry said. “It's not something somebody would want to smell. That's all I have to tell you."

In a statement, the new owners of the plant told WYSO that Valicor is committed to working collaboratively with local officials and neighbors to ensure safe and compliant operations.

The odor hotline number is (937)-268-0522.

Chris Welter is a reporter and corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.

Chris Welter is the Managing Editor at The Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.

Chris got his start in radio in 2017 when he completed a six-month training at the Center for Community Voices. Most recently, he worked as a substitute host and the Environment Reporter at WYSO.