St. Charles City Council members raise a stink over Smithfield odor

ST. CHARLES – St. Charles officials continue to question representatives from the Smithfield processing plant about concerns over unpleasant odors being emitted in the plant’s vicinity on the east side of the city.

Representatives from Smithfield processing plant gave a presentation to Government Operations Committee members at a meeting July 17.

Alderpersons Paul Lencioni, Jayme Muenz, Ron Silkaitis and Mark Foulkes voiced the frustrations of their constituents and raised their own concerns about how the odor will affect future development and the property values of homes.

Smithfield plant engineer Whit Divilbiss and plant manager Ashton Williams told committee members they have taken great strides in recent months to mitigate the odor that East Side residents and visitors have been smelling for years.

Divilbiss said the smell is the result of the organic material (meat) in the wastewater and liquid waste created during many of the plant processes, which must go through the plant’s wastewater treatment facility. He said their facility processes several thousands of gallons of wastewater a day.

“The odor has been one of our No. 1 priorities,” Divilbiss said. “We address it every day.”

Divilbiss said the worsening of the smell is likely because of the multiple expansions over the years and the ramping up of production since 2019. He said since last summer, the plant has increased its production by about 30%.

He said in order to combat the odor in the past, they have upgraded several processes, installed an odor control system that detects and treats smells that arise and brought on wastewater consultants.

“We are very aware that there have been odor issues in the past,” Divilbiss said. “Over the last six to eight weeks, we feel we’ve made the biggest strides in keeping the [odor] levels low, so hopefully your constituents haven’t had any complaints over the last several weeks.”

Smithfield is an American food company headquartered in Smithfield, Virginia. It operates in 28 states and six countries, producing brands such as Eckrich and Nathan’s Famous. Smithfield’s parent company, the WH Group of China, is one of the world’s largest pork producing companies.

Williams said the St. Charles location produces dried sausage, mainly pepperoni and salami, and employs about 440 hourly and 50 salaried employees. The plant produces about 137 million pounds of meat annually.

Foulkes said the problem has not been solved. He said his fear is that property values may be affected by the odor and asked representatives for a plan in writing that details the steps being taken to combat the problem. He asked the representatives for more communication and regular updates on progress to relay to residents and for a contact in the company who residents can send complaints directly.

“It’s wonderful to hear that things are sounding like they’re moving in the right direction,” Foulkes said. “Since the year has turned, I’ll guess once or twice a week, from where I’m living, I can smell something I should not be able to smell. I know we’re trying, but we’ve got to do better.”

Foulkes resides in the city’s First Ward and said he and other alderpersons are dealing with complaints on a weekly basis.

“The problem is it’s not just in my area, it’s further down in the ward,” he said. “In November, you guys came here and said you’d have it remedied in about six to eight weeks and we’re about 25 weeks past that time and that’s very disappointing because you have residents who can’t go out on a summer night and enjoy their back patio.”

Muenz resides in the Second Ward and said even though her home is further from the plant than those in Ward 1, her neighbors complain about the smell. She also raised concerns that future development of the East Side would be affected.

“That’s unacceptable,” Muenz said. “I have neighbors and friends who don’t want to go over by that shopping center [Main Street Commons] because they don’t want to be in that environment with the smell.”

Silkaitis said that not only does he get complaints from residents, he often drives on Kirk Road and has to close his windows because the smell is so bad.

Divilbiss invited City Council members to come and take a tour of the facility so they could better explain some of the processes behind the production.

Lencioni thanked the representatives and noted his appreciation for the relationship Smithfield has had with the city, but said what concerns him most is the company’s reputation in St. Charles could be tarnished.

“I want to make sure that you guys have a great reputation in town and that people who live in town and work there aren’t afraid to tell their neighbors where they work,” Lencioni said. “This would be something that I would worry about getting in the way of this terrific, long-standing relationship.”

It is unclear when representatives of Smithfield will return before the City Council.