SIOUX CITY | A rotten egg-like smell permeates a broad swath of southern Sioux City, around Lewis & Clark Park.
The putrid odor, which can be smelled from miles away, assaults everyone from fans cheering on the Sioux City Explorers minor-league baseball team to motorists traveling on nearby Interstate 29 and Lewis Boulevard to business operators and their customers in the Singing Hills commercial district.
Marla Kollbaum, an instructor at the Iowa School of Beauty, 3320 Line Drive, said the miserable stench is less noticeable during colder weather, but can be much worse on warmer days.
"Certain mornings you can definitely tell more than others," Kollbaum said.
Mayor Bob Scott said the city has long known about the foul odor. A solution to reduce it could come as early as this spring, he said.
The source of the foul smell is the York Street Lift Station, located near the intersection of Line Drive and Stadium Drive, near Lewis & Clark Park. Lift stations are used to pump wastewater or sewage from lower to higher elevations.
The mayor noted that some citizens blame the odor on the city’s regional wastewater treatment plant, which is just north of the baseball stadium, across the Highway 20/75 bypass.
In recent years, the city has spent upwards of $100 million to upgrade the regional wastewater treatment plant. The improvements, city officials say, have helped eliminate offensive smells there. So too has the closing of the former the John Morrell pork plant, positioned on the city's front door near downtown.
Odors from the lift station are a source of frustration for many local officials, who have long fought to put to rest the city's unflattering "Sewer City" moniker. It's prompted some economic development officials to avoid that stretch of I-29 or Lewis Boulevard after picking up business prospects or other guests at Sioux Gateway Airport.
WHY IT SMELLS
Mark Simms, the city’s utilities director, said the odor at the York lift station comes from hydrogen sulfide, a naturally occurring chemical in wastewater that closely resembles rotten eggs.
“It is primarily hydrogen sulfide,” he said. “There can be other offending odors that come out" of the lift station.
Simms said the city spends hundreds of thousands of dollars for chemicals such as chlorine to reduce hydrogen sulfide levels to less than five parts per million, but that does not necessarily get rid of the smell.
Recently, his department removed rock and sand from the lift station, which can act as sponges for odors and bacteria.
“We did take out a considerable amount of material that’s usually rock and sand,” he said.
The intensity of the odor depends on the type of wastewater that feeds into lift station, Simms said. He specifically mentioned Darling International, a rendering plant just to the west in the Bridgeport West industrial park. The plant at 1900 Murray St. processes livestock by-products.
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Simms said while the city primarily treats its wastewater with chemicals, there are other options. He added the utilities department will ask the council this spring for funding to pay US Peroxide LLC to reduce odors at the York lift stations. In 2012, the city hired the Atlanta, Georgia-based company to reduce odors at the Floyd and Perry Creek lift stations.
“We’ve had a trial conducted by the same company that’s doing odor control in other areas,” Simms said. “It seems to be reasonably successful. I would anticipate we will try and get the funding to be able to start doing odor control out of the York Lift Station yet this spring.”
Scott said the city should have had the company work on all of the city’s lift stations.
“They don’t do it (at the York station) like they do at other lift stations and that needs to be done down there,” Scott said of how the lift stations operate.
Chris McGowan, president of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce, said the move by city officials is a step toward bettering the community.
"Several years ago, prior to amending the city’s odor ordinance, Mayor Scott had the foresight to ask for a meeting with the region’s major industrial users and indicated that odor mitigation would be a priority," McGowan said in an email.
In 2012, Scott proposed the creation of a seven-member committee that would look into reports of odors in the city. Their job was to confirm the smell and report to the city to enforce compliance.
While his proposal didn’t win final approval from the council, it generated further discussion about ways to regulate odors generated in the city.
"(Scott) stated that the city would lead by example and first address any public sector odors before asking the private sector to do the same," McGowan said. "While this has taken longer than some expected, the mayor and leadership team at City Hall should be commended for working to fulfill this commitment."
Residents who smell an odor in Sioux City can call the Odor Hotline Service created in 1992.
The line, available all-day, was intended to relay reports of foul odor complaints in Sioux City to the Environmental Services Department. The service still exists today, but city officials say it’s hardly used.
Kollbaum said most people at the Iowa School of Beauty ignore the odor and go about their days.
"It really makes no difference to us honestly," she said. "It's Iowa."
At Clyde's Grill & Pub, 3828 Stadium Drive, manager Tim Blakeley said the restaurant just deals with the stench.
"You just get used to it. I'm not going to say it's horrible or anything," he said. "It's a different smell depending on which way the wind's blowing."