LEOMINSTER -- A “sickly sweet” burning smell which has long troubled the noses of neighbors near Carbon Composites, Inc., spurred visits from state and city officials this summer and a pledge by the company to resolve the issue.
“I’m hopeful they’re going to comply and this is going to be a thing of the past, because it’s a nuisance,” said Chris Knuth, Leominster’s director of public health.
Over the weekend, the city received complaints regarding the smell near the facility on 12 Jytek Park, according to Mayor Dean Mazzarella who visited Monday. Carbon Composites General Manager David Pare said the smell was the result of an equipment malfunction during a process that heats phenolic resin to 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit.
This follows a June 12 inspection by the city’s Board of Health and state Department of Environmental Protection responding to reports of the burning odor, according to DEP spokesman Joe Ferson. Two days earlier a seal on air pollution control equipment failed, releasing the odor into the atmosphere, according to the spokesman.
After learning of the issue this weekend, DEP called the facility, but did not conduct a second inspection, he said on Monday.
Knuth said odor problems have persisted for years. In the early 2000s, the facility was required to install a system to “scrub” emissions, he said.
According to Pare, the issue will soon be resolved. He said he ordered a new control system -- an investment of about $30,000 -- in March, which will automatically shut down operations if the incinerator malfunctions, stopping the smell. The project has been delayed several times, but Pare said the contracted company is expected to start the week-long installation on Monday.
“I’ve been calling constantly to get this done,” he said.
Until then, the facility will have someone on premise at all times to check the system every 20 to 30 minutes, according to Pare. This procedure was put in place on Monday.
According to Pare, the company changed hands this winter and the new owner is interested in updating equipment.
He said neighbors should not be concerned about negative health effects.
“The smell is only a smell,” he said. “All the particulate matter is gone.”
In large quantities Pare and Knuth said this material could be hazardous, but outside odor is not concentrated.
“The chemicals that are used in these processes are the type that can be detected by the human nose at one part per million,” Knuth said. He later added: “The way this is let out in the atmosphere, I don’t think it has any short or long term health effects.”
Still, he said he would not want to be subjected to the smell.
Ward 3 City Councilor David Cormier said he has received complaints about the odor and earlier this summer called the fire department when he saw smoke emitting from the area where the building is located.
“It’s definitely a quality of life issue in the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s definitely tying up a lot of the city’s resources.”
The company was not fined for the recent odors, according to Knuth, but this could be a strategy if the issue persists.
Mazzarella said the industrial park where the company is located was built in the mid-20th century. Across the street, is a neighborhood that has long coexisted with the park.
“People are pretty tolerant there and they understand they have to coexist,” Mazzarella said.
He said he is “optimistic” the new controls will fix the problem, but urged residents to contact the city instead of only posting on social media if the smell returns.
Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins.