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Residents slam Polyethics over 'uncomfortable' odour in area

'The smell has been there for over a year. The solution is to stop the production,' said frustrated resident at public forum

Over the past year, many Ward 1 residents have dealt with what they call a pervasive “perfume” smell emanating from the Polyethics Industries location on Forest Avenue, a result of the company’s production of lavender-scented garbage bags.

At a public meeting held with the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks, city officials, and Polyethics representatives, residents said the smell is so strong on many days that it has prevented them from enjoying their properties.

“People can’t enjoy their properties. They can't sit on their back deck. They can't have their windows open on a beautiful spring night or summer night and enjoy fresh air — that's the sort of impact it's having,” said Ward 1 Coun. David Campbell regarding what he has heard from constituents.

“I think what we've heard today is that the company, along with the Ministry, are working together and are going to try and fix those issues,” Campbell continued. “As a city, I think we look forward to working with them and making that happen.”

That impact was raised at the Tuesday afternoon meeting by numerous residents, some of whom have resorted to keeping their windows closed and staying indoors due to the smell.

“We're talking about just taking a walk with our dog. We're talking about sitting out on our decks. We're talking about having visitors over and that becoming an uncomfortable experience — our lives on almost a daily basis are uncomfortable,” said a resident.

Issues began arising when Polyethics began using a lavender oil product in the production of their scented garbage bags, officials said, which takes place on specific days of the week — although residents reported smelling the scent throughout their neighbourhood on other days of the week, as well.

Residents aimed barbs at Ministry and Polyethics officials alike, raising concerns about potential long-term health effects of exposure to the plant’s emissions, and why the issue has not been resolved through either Ministry enforcement or Polyethics action over the course of the past year.

“The Ministry has the right to do something about it. You have the Environmental Protection Act. You have the Ontario regulations on air pollution. Why aren’t you doing something about that?” said a resident.

In response to concerns about adverse health effects from long-term exposure, Polyethics officials explained there are no known harmful effects of the emissions from the plant.

“Based on our knowledge today, in our adherence to the Ministry of Environment regulations, we are compliant,” said Bryon Wolff, the company's chief technology officer. “We’re going to do something better, but our knowledge of what we have today, we are compliant and the products are safe.”

Within the past year, Polyethics has reduced the quantities of the lavender additive by nearly 50 per cent, but residents continue to experience the smell throughout the neighbourhood, with one saying “it’s gotten worse.”

In response to resident concerns, both the Ministry and Polyethics laid out plans to address the issue over the coming weeks and months.

“We're working with Polyethics to come up with some odour mitigation measures that will address the odours — we understand the concerns of the community, and obviously we're taking that to the company to come up with these strategies,” said the Ministry’s district supervisor, Brad Allen. 

“At the end of the day, their reports could show that they are meeting our emission standards, and yet they have an odour concern,” Allen continued.

“Odours can still be a contaminant and we'll still ask the company to look into measures to mitigate the odours.”

In cooperation with the Ministry, Polyethics plans to install air make-up units in the coming weeks, and have hired an engineering firm to collect samples for submission to the Ministry, which will then help to determine the appropriate abatement measures to reduce the lavender smell in the area.

“The timeframe for that, what we have right now is 26 weeks,” said Polyethics’ chief operations officer, Mark Brown.

“It's not what everyone wants to hear, probably, but I'm trying to be realistic on what the timeframe is — everyone knows since COVID getting equipment or getting electronics and getting a whole bunch of other things can take a long time, so that's what we're working on," said Brown.

Ministry officials said an abatement plan, outlining the steps Polyethics is going to take, is due by May 24, with work unfolding over the summer.

“They will then have a third-party consultant that will do the odour testing … and then from that testing, we'll get a benchmark as to how strong the odours are,” said Tom Teske, environmental compliance officer.

“That will be used to figure out what has to be implemented in the way of equipment, or changes to the plan in order to reduce the odour.”

Polyethics will also need to submit a new environmental activities sector registration document, Ministry officials said, as its 2021 document is no longer valid "because of changes to the facility."

Residents, however, still expressed frustration with the Ministry, Polyethics, and the persisting situation in their neighbourhood.

“The smell has been there for over a year. The solution is to stop the production,” said one resident.

“Why don’t you want to be a decent neighbour?” asked another resident.

"I think we're all feeling a little bit distrustful when we hear that you have been in non-compliance, and I don't know where things fell apart with regard to that," said another.

During the meeting, Polyethics officials said they would use the lavender product as infrequently as possible until a solution is found.

“I'll run the product as infrequently and as little as possible and … bring inventories down as much as possible until we have the solution in place — no problem with that,” said Brown. “I just have to maintain a customer, as well, to ensure that employees have a job.”

The Ministry also said “poor planning” in the past led to the current situation, where a plastic plant lies adjacent to a residential area, which has caused both the smell and noise concerns in the neighbourhood.

“It's an incompatible land use,” said Teske. “In no way, shape or form should a residential home be 60 metres to an industrial building. It's just poor planning all around. I can't fix that. All I can do is use ministry legislation to assist you.”

Tuesday’s meeting was the third between residents, city, Ministry, and Polyethics officials since the beginning of the year.

An additional meeting will be held this summer, at a date to be determined.



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Greg McGrath-Goudie

About the Author: Greg McGrath-Goudie

Greg has been with Village Media since 2021, where he has worked as an LJI reporter for CollingwoodToday, and now as a city hall/general assignment reporter for OrilliaMatters
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