Oklahoma City neighborhood looking for help to fight foul odors

Neighbors of the Valley Proteins plant on the south side of Oklahoma City say an odor has been going through the area since the company began animal rendering. (KOKH)

People living in one Oklahoma City neighborhood say something stinks and are blaming the city for not stepping in to protect them. The community sits just south of the Oklahoma River and very near the south end of the soon-to-be Scissortail Park.

The problem, the neighbors say, is an old neighbor with a new purpose. The Valley Proteins plant used to just recycle restaurant grease. It had its own odor, but was tolerable according to neighbors like Gary Young who lives next door.

“It's disrupting a lot of people's lives and we don't deserve this,” Young told FOX 25, “I never signed up for this.”

The problem, according to Young, started when the plant was purchased and switched to a different kind of recycling, known as rendering. A rendering plant turns animal corpses and body parts into fats, oils and other products.

“I noticed [the smell] right away when they changed over to a rendering plant,” Young said. “The smell is horrible; you can't stand it it's just terrible it's just disrupted my life a great deal.”

Neighbors say the smell comes in waves.

The first wave is trucks that haul in dead animals or animal parts. Neighbors sent FOX 25 pictures which show trucks entering the facility’s lot with heaping piles exposed. Young said the uncovered trucks often drop animal parts in the road in front of his place. He showed us pieces of animal parts and pictures he took that appear to show maggot-infested flesh and bone.

“The worst thing that I found was I found a cow's head out in the street in front of my shop,” Young said.

The company that now owns the rendering plant is Valley Proteins and told FOX 25 once the trucks get to their lot they are covered. However, neighbors told FOX 25 and company officials that the tarps do not stop the smell of rotting flesh.

Young says the smell from the body parts in the trucks is just half the problem.

“The other [problem] is from the smoke stacks out there when they cook it.” Young says the smell of burning flesh often wafts for blocks. He has even smelled it in the area that is soon to be the south end of Oklahoma City’s planned multi-million-dollar Scissortail Park.

Overwhelming odors are the key difference in what is and is not allowed in the small industrial area according to Oklahoma City zoning codes.

“Initially when the inspectors went out there was a noxious odor,” said Oklahoma City Subdivision and Zoning Manager J.J. Chambless. “Valley Proteins has been working hard to prevent that and to date we have been back numerous times and they've been found to be in compliance.”

Chambless has participated in meetings with the company and neighbors that were facilitated by State Representative Forrest Bennett and held at the capitol. During the most recent meeting the company said it had installed an odor control system.

However, neighbors say it hasn’t stopped the noxious odors. FOX 25 also visited the plant on a day the neighbors called to say the odor was bad. We also smelled a stomach-churning smell of burning flesh.

Chambless doesn't dispute what neighbors are reporting but says city inspectors haven't smelled it recently. “We can't supply an inspector on call,” Chambless said, “But if we have an idea from the neighbors of a pattern or certain times we can certainly have an inspector at those times.”

Neighbors like Young say they call and complain, but by the time an inspector arrives, sometimes days later it is too late to smell anything.

“Your belongings your clothing your towels that you bathe with and your carpet and rugs,” Young said. “I go through several cans of Lysol every week.

Valley proteins did not agree to an on camera interview but the company’s vice chairman Michael Smith sent us the following statement:

“We purchased this facility a year ago and have put money and time into improving the facility and trucks since we purchased it. Let me first say that we as a company and our Management staff desire to be good corporate neighbors. Our people once they learned that neighbors had concern have taken the concerns seriously and are willing to work with our neighbors. We have recently hired a new more proactive manager that was given 6 weeks of training at another facility. He has been on site now just at one month.

When we purchased the facility the previous owner was not running the odor control equipment. We immediately approved the money to put it back into operation which took several months. We sent a corporate trainer to the facility to help train the employees on the proper operation of the production and environmental controls in the past couple months as well. The truck fleet also lacked proper maintenance and we spent time and money resources improving the safety and performance of the fleet. The trucks that provide services to multiple suppliers are exempt from being covered but we do tarp the single point pick up trailers. If a trailer is not covered it may have a broken safety mechanism for opening and shutting the tarp and to keep our employees safe the tarp may not be used till the trailer can return to our property for proper repairs. Though we may from time to time have issues we are happy to hear from our neighbors at the time of the episode so we can immediately address it. We do know that there are issues with loose dogs in the neighborhood. We have experienced them taking product from our receiving area from time to time and taking it offsite. We have made the local authorities aware of this concern. “

In the recent mediation meeting Valley Proteins asked for more time to implement odor control policies.

In the meantime, the city told FOX 25 they will be looking into ways to get inspectors to respond more quickly to the complaints.

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