City Engages MDEQ and Industrial Manufacturers to Address Odor Complaints

Hattiesburg, Mississippi – After several weeks of complaints regarding odor issues, the City of Hattiesburg is actively working with the Mississippi Department of Environment Quality (MDEQ) and its industrial manufacturers inside the City to identify the source. At this point, there is not a consensus yet on where the smell is stemming from.

“Each of the past three weeks, MDEQ had staff in Hattiesburg on multiple days working with our staff to track down the source,” said Mayor Toby Barker. “This week, we have continued efforts to identify the source of the smell. The bottom line is there is no consensus yet between the city, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and potential manufacturing plants on the actual source. We know the weather (temperature, humidity, cloud cover, wind, etc.) affects when it rolls in, how strong it is and how long it stays.”

A preliminary conference call on Tuesday, January 25 concluded with a plan to work closely with MDEQ representatives and the City’s industrial employers to discuss production schedules, waste removal and additional variables that might play a role.

Over the past week, that has included:

  • MDEQ staff were in Hattiesburg on Tuesday and Wednesday, visiting two manufacturing plants.
  • The City’s wastewater consultant was also in town on Tuesday to accompany MDEQ staff and to evaluate the City’s lagoons.
  • At one plant, MDEQ conducted a compliance audit and unofficial indications are that it came back satisfactory. MDEQ is also requesting sampling reports from this company from November through January.
  • At another plant, city staff joined MDEQ and the consultant to tour the plant and its lagoon system multiple times a week. While a smell appears for certain reasons during specific weather conditions, there isn’t consensus on if it’s the same smell associated with recent events.
  • The City is also taking a look at a couple of cells in its lagoon system. While there have been no testing violations, city staff are keeping an eye out for any potential recent changes – in appearance or other – that might point to an issue.

He added, “The mission we are on at the moment is a fact-finding one and unfortunately, it might take some time. Due to issues with lagoon operations in the early 2010s, we understand the sensitivity this topic brings. The city’s lagoons are in compliance with the prescribed limits provided by MDEQ and this is not the same smell/issue prior to.”

The City’s next steps include:

  • Setting up a 10-day composite testing period to take BOD (biological oxygen demand) samples at one manufacturing plant, specifically where its wastewater leaves the plant and comes to the City’s lagoon.
  • Asking the City Council to delay taking up ad valorem and tax exemptions from many of the City’s industrial employers until a source is identified or sources are ruled out (whichever comes first).
  • Gauging the availability of an odor consultant, who can provide odor measurement, modeling minimization and management support for entities facing odor complaints.

“We ask that our residents be patient as we work through what is obviously a challenge for us at the moment. We are working as quickly as possible and deploying every resource that is currently available through MDEQ and our local legislative delegation,” said Barker.

Per the City’s settlement with Gulf Restoration Network and the EPA in 2017, the city’s lagoons are tested several times a month regarding the biochem oxygen demand (BOD) limits and the total suspended solids (TSS) limits. To receive a violation from the MDEQ, three straight months of exceeding limits must take place. The City has not had a violation since 2017.

A general timeline regarding lagoon operations and recent communication via MDEQ:

  • 2012 – Gulf Restoration Network filed a lawsuit against the city to comply with permits regarding discharge limits.
  • 2014 – The City agreed to a consent judgment in federal court that required the city to be responsible for a mechanical wastewater treatment plant.
  • 2016 – After upgrades to the City’s lagoon system, city engineers and local experts in the industry recognized that the lagoons were performing within limits. The City opted to file a motion to terminate the consent judgment.
  • August 2017 – Settlement with Gulf Restoration Network: this included meeting new discharge limits set by MDEQ, performing composite sampling and reporting nutrient monitoring in greater detail.
  • 1/14/2021 – New 5-Year Lagoon Permits Issued
  • 12/5-6/21 – City completed additional composite testing on Cell 3 of the City’s lagoon systems
  • 12/16/21 – Email to MDEQ contact Michele Clark re: smell
  • 1/6/22 – Mayor Barker meets with MDEQ Executive Director Chris Wells in Jackson regarding several issues, including smell.
  • 1/13/22- Email to MDEQ contact Michelle Clark re: smell
  • 1/14/22 – Email to MDEQ contact Michelle Clark re: smell
  • 1/15/22 – Email to MDEQ contact Michelle Clark re: smell
  • 1/18/22 – Email to MDEQ contact Michelle Clark re: smell
  • 1/19/22 – Email to MDEQ contact Michelle Clark re: smell
  • 1/20/22 – Email to MDEQ contact Michelle Clark re: smell
  • 1/20/22 – Internal Meetings, Representative Missy McGee reached out to MDEQ director
  • 1/21/22 – Internal Meetings
  • 1/25/22 – Conference call with MDEQ representatives Michelle Clark and Danny Beasley
  • 2/1-2/22 – MDEQ Representatives and Wastewater Consultant visit manufacturing entities and assess lagoon reports.