GREENSBORO — A rank odor in parts of Greensboro should start fading this week as workers near completion of a pond dredging project at Cone Mills’ White Oak denim plant, company officials said Tuesday.
“Unfortunately, there will not be an immediate elimination of all odor, but there should be steady improvement,” Cone Mills spokeswoman Delores Sides said in a statement. “Depending on the weather conditions, the odor could be reaching up to several blocks.”
Several residents living near the Fairview Street plant have called Greensboro officials to complain of a stench that started up again about a month ago. Although unpleasant, the odor poses no threat to health, said Eric Hudson of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Cone Mills and city officials attribute the smell to a stagnant wastewater treatment pond. Similar odor complaints made last August were also attributed to the company’s sewage facility.
The plant operates its own sewage facility that allows water to be discharged into city systems, provided chemical levels remain in check.
Greensboro water officials noticed high phosphorous levels but didn’t know the source until they conducted an unrelated inspection at the plant in April, said Arthur White, the city’s water reclamation manager.
According to White, the denim plant implemented a new production process earlier this year, which increased phosphorous levels. The increase disrupted bacteria that help break down liquid waste.
As a result, bacteria accumulated in the 12-million-gallon pond.
Cone Mills is now treating the phosphorous with sodium aluminate, White said, which should help end the bacteria build-up in the pond and reduce odors.
The pond is used to collect solids that are removed before water is discharged to the city, Sides said.
“The pond is being dredged to remove previously accumulated solids so that when we restart the process, the discharge coming from the pond to the city will be upgraded, or of a higher quality,” she said.
The plant was not required to stop discharging into the city system because the phosphorous content was addressed within 48 hours of notice, White said. The plant was unaware phosphorous levels had risen because workers don’t routinely test incoming waste water to the treatment plant, he said.
The excess bacteria started a biological chain reaction that lead to pinched noses throughout nearby neighborhoods.
“The odor is very strong. It can make someone very sick to their stomach,” said Marilyn Braun, Guilford County’s emergency management coordinator. “One gets the impression that there are many people that are bothered but didn’t call.”
James Frazier, a Summit Avenue resident, is one city resident who did complain. Frazier lives about one mile northeast of the plant and said while the plant has always emitted an odor, the most recent stench is worse than normal.
“It smells like human waste to me,” Frazier said. “This odor is horrible. I am sure it would make people sick if they had to breathe it continuously. Some days it is worse than others.”
Staff writers Donald W. Patterson and Matt Williams contributed to this story.
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