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Smell something, say something: Newport study sniffs out odors

The Ramsey/ Washington County Recycling and Energy Board has identified 14 locations to monitor (blue points) and seven potential odor sources (green points). (Submitted photo)

Newport residents may finally find the source of the city’s infamous stench.

The Ramsey/Washington County Recycling and Energy Board is conducting an odor study in Newport to confirm the cause and origin of the foul odors residents have long complained of. 

“I’ve talked to a lot of people, and they say, yeah, this place stinks,” council member Bill Sumner said.

The study was passed by the Ramsey/ Washington County Recycling and Energy board in February and testing began in July.

“We selected 14 locations, strategically located near or around the Recycling and Energy Center,” Judy Hunter of the Washington County Health Department said. “We have a trained consultant, and they go out and stand in the spot. There’s no sensor at that spot; they go with a handheld machine that shows wind temperature and speed.”

The center is consulting with Foth and subcontracting with St. Croix Sensory. For eight weeks — from July to Sept. 1 — they measured factors including the time of day, wind direction, humidity and place, and with different amounts of trash in the facility. The data is being gathered using tools called Kestrel and Nasal Ranger Field Olfactometer that measure weather conditions and odor concentration.

“The study measures a number of things like intensity and characterizes the odor, what it could be,” Hunter said.

The study is independent from the South St. Paul odor complaint form, listed on the city of Newport’s website, though locations in South St. Paul are part of this study. 

“We monitor the odor complaint information and will continue to look at that, but the study was to get a baseline of odor for an eight-week period at the 14 sites,” Hunter said. 

Hunter said one of the goals of the study is to see if the Recycling and Energy Center is one of the causes of odor in Newport, and if so, how they can solve the issue.

“Right now we’re focused on how that center has contributed to it, and defining the problem,” she said. “The points are placed strategically kind of in that area from the Recycling and Energy Center, so some are on the bike path, some along the river.” 

They are not looking only for odors coming from their facility. They have identified several other potential odor causing facilities, such as the South St. Paul Compost Facility, Sanimax and Twin City Tanning. The odors could be coming from more than one source at once, as the center said there are multiple odor-generating facilities throughout St. Paul, Newport and South St. Paul. 

From February to August, South St. Paul received nine complaints from Newport residents, who complained of “horrible” and “unusual” odors, rotten smells and several complaints of garbage smell. 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has no regulations for odors coming from waste facilities. Newport and St. Paul hold no city regulations regarding odors. South St. Paul has a city ordinance prohibiting offensive smells.

Results will be presented at the Oct. 20 Newport City Council meeting. 

Newport residents are still encouraged to report odors to South St. Paul by filling out the online form or calling 651-554-3220. Callers are asked to note the date and time, the location of the odor, wind direction at time of smelling, a description and strength of the odor on a 1-10 scale.