Environment

Louisville Metro Government has resolved five years worth of odor complaints linked to JBS Swift’s pork plant in the city’s Butchertown neighborhood.

Under the terms of the settlement, JBS will pay $124,500 and agree to a third-party audit of the company’s odor reduction equipment. The agreement resolves 30 incidents going back to 2011, though as is normal in these agreements, Swift doesn’t admit any wrongdoing.

At a public hearing on the agreed order Wednesday, plant manager Eric Wallin told the Air Pollution Control Board his facility couldn’t guarantee that there would never be objectionable odors leaving the plant, but they’d react quickly to control them.

“We respect the fact that our plant is located in a densely populated area. As a result, we believe that we probably do more to control odors than any other packing house in America,” Wallin said. “Still, we never want to emit any odors, to offend the neighbors or the businesses that are all around us.”

The settlement requires Swift to hire an independent third-party to review the plant’s rendering operations and scrubber systems by April 20, 2017. The audit will look at “any deficiencies in record keeping requirements, odor control equipment, operating procedures, corrective and preventative maintenance procedures; and to determine whether Company’s odor control equipment, operating procedures, and practices represent a system of best engineering practices for odor emission reduction for the Swift facility.”

Swift will also pay $124,500 in penalties, but APCD executive director Keith Talley said the third-party audit is the main component of the agreement.

“What we hope that does is to identify any areas within their operations that would allow excess odors to be emitted,” he said. “And from that audit they have agreed for all critical items, to address all of those. But that report will be given to APCD and we’ll be able to take a look at it and anything that we think might be necessary, we can sit down with the company and talk to them about it.”

By approving the board order Wednesday, the parties ended years of negotiations. In 2015, unable to reach an agreement, APCD regulators said it was likely they would take Swift to a rare administrative hearing. Now, a hearing won’t be necessary.

Changes at APCD

Though it’s not part of the agreement, the agency will be making changes, too. The APCD will switch to a numeric scale to describe objectionable odors, with the goal of making the system less subjective.

At Wednesday’s public hearing, Swift attorney Dennis Conniff of Frost Brown Todd said his client wouldn’t have agreed to the settlement if the APCD hadn’t agreed to change the way it evaluates objectionable odors.

“But for the agreement of the district to make these changes in procedures and the adoption of the five point scale for determining odor intensity, we would not be here today to present this agreed board order to you,” Conniff said.

Talley said the change in procedure has been years in the making, and isn’t part of the agreement with Swift. Now, rather than use words like “obnoxious” or “putrid” to describe odors, the agency will use a five-point scale.

“We really are going to inspect odors the same way, what it really accomplishes is to give the company some consistency, so they won’t see multiple words to describe the same thing,”
Talley said. “They’ll know that when we say it’s a five, it’s a five. And that was something we had began looking at even prior to those intense negotiations with Swift, as just a better way for us to conduct our odor investigations.”

The new system will apply to every company within the APCD’s jurisdiction.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.