Breaking News
More () »

What a year-long study revealed about a "chemical-like" odor Jacksonville residents have complained about

First Coast News spoke to Jacksonville's Environmental Quality Division Chief about the results of a year-long study into a "sickening" odor.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Finally, there are answers to questions people across Jacksonville have been waiting for.

Two and a half years after First Coast News first reported on a "chemical-like" odor people call “sickening” and “vile,” a year-long, city-funded study into it is complete.

The biggest question has been: Where is the odor coming from? There have been hundreds of complaints to the city. Though there are fewer now, neighbors say they want tighter restrictions on companies.

“It’s like being inside of a Pine-Sol bottle,” Murray Hill resident Josh Gellers said, describing the odor in 2021.

“What am I breathing in?” Murray Hill resident Angela Mann questioned in 2021.

Through years of complaints and even lawsuits, these questions remained: What is the odor and where is it coming from?

"It is concerning," said Mann in April.

“Intense headaches, insomnia, coughing,” said Gellers on what happened to him when he was with the Murray Hill Preservation Association in 2021.

One year and $125,000 later, the company hired by the city to place more than a dozen odor sensors around Jacksonville has completed its study. Jacksonville Environmental Quality Division Chief Melissa Long spoke exclusively to First Coast News about the results of the study conducted by "environmental intelligence" company, Envirosuite.

First Coast News asked Long if the study was able to pinpoint where the odor is coming from.

“We can in some aspects because of that back trajectory,” Long said. “We did find that there isn’t one particular source or culprit causing violations or causing objectionable odors. It’s more various facilities because it depends on wind direction, it depends on what’s going on that day.” 

Mann and Gellers have been following the city's odor investigation for years and reacted to the study's results.

"It’s surprising,” Mann said.

“I’m a little bit disappointed and frustrated,” said Gellers.

“I think they were hoping that there would be a smoking gun and pointing toward a particular facility,” said Long about what the public may think of the results. 

The odor has been described similarly by multiple people, some of which tracked wind direction at the time they smelled it. They also describe the same smell at one particular facility. First Coast News questioned Long about this.

“I can’t really explain it," Long said. "There are different smells from different facilities. Sometimes there is a combination of those smells and one might be a little stronger than the other." 

Gellers is less confident in the study's results.

“The reality is that there were so many issues with the way the study was conducted,”  he said.

Gellers notes a Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board document shows several of Envirosuite’s odor sensors, which tested for hydrogen sulfide, ammonia and the volatile organic compounds, reported incorrect data. Long says other sensors were moved closer to company's facilities.

Envirosuite declined to be interviewed about their study. Long calls the study successful, saying its purpose was to see how odors travel through the city. However, Gellers and others thought the study was supposed to find the source of the odor. 

"I just want action," said Mann.

Long says six potentially odorous facilities in Jacksonville are working with the city and are making or have made changes. She says those facilities are International Flavors and Fragrances, Symrise, Reichhold, American Cool Air, Taylor Made Fiberglass and Revlon. 

One fragrance factory has come under the most scrutiny and was even sued by residents over a smell they claimed was coming from it.

“Every time I've driven by IFF, it smells exactly like the smell I've smelled in my neighborhood,” said Mann.

International Flavors and Fragrances was issued a cease-and-desist order in 2020 and in 2021, but the company denies any wrongdoing. In a statement, IFF says they’ve invested in a variety of technologies designed to limit odors. 

Click here for correspondence from The Environmental Protection Board.

"By virtue of us trying to find the source, it may have had a chilling effect on companies that were releasing into the atmosphere," said Gellers.

When the odor study was in the process, Gellers and neighbors experienced the odor at least once a week. Now, they say it’s once every few months. 

“We’re working with all of those facilities making improvements," said Long. "There are more improvements to come.” 

A question still in the air for Gellers: Will the odor be back? 

Long says Envirosuite is still working to put together all the data from the study and she expects it to be ready mid-June. Long plans to present the study to the Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board in July. 

Long still encourages you to report an odor to the city, which you can do here.

First Coast News asked the companies Long named, what kinds of changes they're working on to mitigate any possible objectionable odors and how much those changes may have costed? IFF sent the following statement in response to the questions:

“As a good community steward, IFF cares about the community, and preventing potential odor is very important to IFF. 

We’re committed to using best-in-class technologies and processes. Our Environmental Health and Safety team continuously monitors plant operations to prevent odors from leaving the facility. The IFF Jacksonville Plant uses various processes to prevent potential odors from leaving the facility, such as a vapor collection system and boilers to treat the air coming from the plant’s equipment.  In full cooperation with the City of Jacksonville, IFF has invested in systems for wastewater pond maintenance, including: a technology called a hex cover, equipment to oxygenate the wastewater pond and a new oil/water separator. IFF remains interested in the outcomes and recommendations from the City of Jacksonville's odor study, which includes odor monitoring of several other facilities located closer to Murray Hill and the surrounding neighborhoods than IFF.”

Officials with Symrise sent the following statement in response to First Coast News's questions:

"Since acquiring the Renessenz business in 2015, Symrise has invested considerably in numerous health, safety and environmental projects. Included in this, we have also invested in new technology. This helps improving the local and regional environment by reducing air emissions. 

Also, we continue to look for further opportunities to improve our facilities in order to benefit our neighbors, employees and the environment. Symrise commits to the environment on a global scale to meet or exceed local, state and federal regulations."

First Coast News did not get a response from the other companies or was unable to reach them.

Exclusive on your side investigation: Odor study results revealed

Finally - an answer people across Jacksonville have been waiting for. Two and a half years after we first reported on a "chemical-like" odor people called “sickening” and “vile," espceially in the Murray Hill area, a city-funded study into it is complete. Here's my exclusive interview about the results of the study. Good Morning Jacksonville First Coast News City of Jacksonville, Florida - Government Murray Hill Preservation Association Envirosuite

Posted by Renata Di Gregorio News on Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Before You Leave, Check This Out