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Noxious Sludge Stench in New York City

September 8, 2008

To Whom It May Concern:

We are a community-driven grassroots organization known as Mothers on the Move in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx, New York City. Hunts Point residents reside near the New York Organic Fertilizer Company (NYOFCo) a subsidiary of Synagro Technologies that is owned by the controversial Carlyle Group. NYOFCo processes New York City's sludge into fertilizer pellets that are being applied to land around the country. We live next to where the whole problem of sludge begins- the processing of sludge into "ferilizer" happens right in our backyard.

Our greatest problem with this sludge pelletizing company are the noxious odors that emanate and pollute our air in the South Bronx. The following are testimonials from some of our organization's members about the noxious odors from NYOFCo.

My name is Lucretia Jones. I am 53 years old. I am a doctoral student in public health at CUNY’s Graduate Center and I work as a research scientist for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. I have lived in the Longwood section of Hunts Point for my entire life, except for 10 years when I was in college and living in California. With my parents, I own the brownstone that I live in with them, my sister, youngest nephew (aged 13), daughter (aged 20) and son (aged 28, but working in Japan). My parents bought this brownstone, 931 E. 156th Street, Bronx, NY, in 1944.

I first noticed the odors 15 years ago. It smelled like a mixture of sewage and garbage. The odors are worst from April through October/November and between the hours of 5pm and 10pm. Sometimes the odors are present during the day, and sometimes they are present on the weekends. The odors are really strong and often cause me to be nauseous or to dry-heave. The odors have affected my homelife, my parents’ lives and my children’s lives.

My son has really bad asthma and the odors aggravated his asthma to the point that when it got smelly, he was not allowed outside. Due to his asthma, my son was hospitalized often growing up. My son saw Dr. Alan Shapiro, a physician at the Montefiore Medical Center South Bronx Center Children and Families. Dr. Shapiro recommended that my son stay indoors when it was hot and the odors were present, so, in the summer, my son would stay indoors and could not play outside.

My daughter also suffers from asthma. I had to install an A/C unit in my daughter’s room because the odors were so bad. My mother and father live on the top floor of our house, which becomes very hot in the summer. However, even during hot days, the odors force us to keep the windows closed. My mother, Yvonne Jones, is 84 years old. She is disabled and bedridden. She suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, requires a pacemaker, and relies on a breathing machine.

Because the windows are closed, during hot days, I must keep the A/C on nonstop for her. Keeping the air conditioning on nonstop is a large expense for my mother, who is on a fixed income.

My father, 90 years old, does not have air conditioning in his room. When the odors force him to close his bedroom windows, the heat creates a stressful situation for him. The odors prevent me and my family from hanging out in our backyard where we could barbeque, garden, read, and socialize. This is bad for our neighbors too, because our backyard is also the neighborhood backyard where many of their neighbors often congregate. In fact, we have annual Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day barbeques in our backyard. We had to cancel one of our annual barbeques because the odors were so bad. When the odors are bad, we cannot hang out on our stoop in front of our house either.

While I am walking my dogs around the block and driving around the neighborhood, I often smell the odors. When I smell the odors at home, I shut all the windows in the house and turn on the air conditioners (I have 3), resulting in high electricity bills. The odors affected my children when they were at school.

My children attended PS 130 (elementary school). The school’s former principal, Danny Garcia (now principal of a charter school), was very active on the issue of odors since it often forced them to close the school’s windows and keep the children indoors. My son attended IS 52, at 681 Kelly Street in the Bronx. Since neither school had air conditioning, the children were either exposed to the odors or sit in the heat with the windows closed.

Though I do like Barretto Point Park because it is a nice place to relax, and there are not too many places for me to relax, I only go to the Park once or twice a year. I remember a Mothers on the Move action at Barretto Point Park where the odors got so bad we had to leave the action. If there were not odors, I would invite guests from my work to my house. I would use less air conditioning, and save money on my air conditioning bill. I would walk around the neighborhood more, and maybe walk around the Bill Rainey Park for exercise.

I have not tried to sell my home and I do not know if the odors have affected my property value, however, I feel that if I were to attempt to sell my home, the odors would affect its value on the market.

My name is Tanya Fields. I am 27 years old. I live at 725 Fox Street, Apt. 1B, Bronx, NY 10455, which I rent. I moved to my current address five years ago from West Harlem, where I grew up. I live with my two young children, aged five and four, and I am currently nine months pregnant with my third child. My home is located two blocks west of the Bruckner Expressway, and about a ten minute walk from the Hunts Point Water Pollution Control Plant (HPWPCP) and the New York Organic Fertilizer Company (NYOFCO) facilities.

When I first moved into the neighborhood in 2003 with my then four-month-old daughter, I noticed strong manure-like odors. These odors were particularly bad once summer arrived. I did not know where they came from, but they were both persistent and unpredictable. They made me feel physically ill when I smelled them.

I started noticing signs in the neighborhood bodegas reading “If you smell something, call 311.” So I knew I was not the only one being affected by the odors, yet I still did not know what their source was. Like many people in the neighborhood, I thought they were just a part of living in the South Bronx.

About four years later, in 2007, my daughter started school. When I was taking her there one day, I passed the offices of Mothers on the Move. I decided to go in, and it was then that I learned that the source of the odors were the HPWPCP and NYOFCO facilities. Knowing where the odors were coming from only made me feel more physically ill. In the summer, it is like you can taste the air the odors are so thick.

The odors have affected my quality of life in a number of ways. At home, I absolutely never open my windows because the smell inside is too bad if I do. This means that there is always a stale smell in my apartment, which requires me to run the air conditioner whenever it is hot out. If I had known about the foul smell beforehand, I would not have moved to my current home. Now that I work and children in school in the neighborhood, moving is not an option.

Running the air conditioner aggravates my youngest daughter’s asthma. In addition, it has resulted in a tremendous increase in my Con Edison bills. When I am required to run the air conditioner all day when we are home, my monthly bills average $300. By comparison, during the winter when I stop running the air conditioner, my bills go down to about $75 per month. In other words, having to run the air conditioner because the odors prevent me from opening my windows costs me about $225 per month.

I am also affected in my daily neighborhood activities, because the odors keep me from shopping regularly in the area, using local parks, or doing other normal outdoor activities. Other than picking up necessary items from local stores, when I need to shop, I go into Harlem and other parts of Manhattan to avoid smelling the odors in my neighborhood.

My name is Lucinda Ortiz. I am 59 years old. I have lived in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx for 20 years, and I have been renting at my present address, 1022 Rev. James A. Wright Ave. #3M, Bronx, NY, for the past 3 years. The first time I smelled the odor was 15 years ago; I smelled it on 165th and Kelly Street. Now, I never know when the smell will start, but it is usually worst in the morning and midday.

I am a Pacemaker user, and I have to get exercise each day by walking. Sometimes while I am exercising, I smell the odor. I get nauseated, there is a swelling in my throat; I start to heave and I get a headache. I have never been to the hospital when I am having these physical symptoms because once I get to the hospital, about a quarter of a mile away, the physical affects of the odors on my body are gone.

The odors in this neighborhood also affect me when I am not exercising. I can smell the odors when I go do my shopping at the mall at Southern Boulevard. The odors affect my appetite. I cannot smell the odors from my house, but, because of the awful smell, I do not want to invite friends who do not live in Hunts Point into this neighborhood. If there was not this smell, I would have barbecues in my backyard, go shopping on Southern Boulevard more, and visit my friends who live closer to the plant. If there was not these odors, I would not be sick and coughing when I am trying to exercise.

I have filed 311 (NYC public complaint number) complaints, and I have told the operators about the smell—that it stinks like poop—but when the representatives from the New York Organic Fertilizer Company (NYOFC) and DEP call me back, they say they do not smell anything.

On April 22nd, 2008, I attended a Mothers on the Move (MOM) protest at the NYOFCO plant. We all smelled the odor. We called 311, and got an official from NYOFCO to come out of the plant. We finally made the NYOFCO official to admit that he smelled something foul. The last time I went to Baretto Point Park was in April, 2008, when MOM did a mock funeral highlighting the South Bronx’s troubles. The Park smells bad, and it makes people smell bad. The odor gets in your clothes and in your hair. You can bring this smell into your house. If the Park did not have this smell, I would go there more often. My sister lives near the Park, so we could go to the Park when I visit her.

The following is a testimony of another member of Mothers on the Move. Her name is Barbara White and has resided in the Bronx almost all of her life: Prior to moving to Fox St., she has always lived in an apartment and viewed moving to a home with a yard as an achievement. It was like her “enchanted garden.” She grew vegetables, including tomatoes, broccoli and others.

She no longer gardens because she cannot stand the smell. Last year the only thing she grew was tomatoes, and they died on the vine because no one could stand to go out and pick them. Before the odors started (around 6-7 years ago), everyone on her block was always outside in nice weather.

The neighbors would talk to one another from their yards and invite one another over for picnics, etc. Now she never sees her neighbors. Almost never does she see anyone sitting outdoors or kids playing outside. They have lost the community that existed between the 11 homes on her block. The last time she was going to use her yard was last year, when she was going to have friends, including some from Manhattan, over for a picnic. But she didn’t know when the odors might come, so decided against the picnic. She didn’t want to be embarrassed of her neighborhood, especially in front of her friends from another borough.

She used to dry her clothes on a clothesline, but cannot do so anymore because the odors are too bad when she’s outside using it. Her daughter also complained that the clothes smelled after hanging to dry outside, and thought there was something wrong with the washing machine, but there wasn’t, it was from the odors. She had planned to hold a flea market in her yard, but is not sure she can do so because she doesn’t want to be outside with the smell. She has been putting it off for two years. She also never opens her windows, and had to buy two air conditioners to keep cool in the summer. She hates air conditioning, and it is expensive to run them. She loves ceiling fans, but can’t use them to get cross-ventilation because she can’t open her windows.

When she gets off the bus when she comes back to the neighborhood, the odor hits her and she tries to hold her breath as much as possible until she gets home. She doesn’t do anything outside in the entire Hunts Point section because of the risk of the odors coming up. She could go to the store when there was no smell, but then come out and it would be there and she would have to try and rush home with her grocery bags, holding her breath to avoid the smell.

She was last at the local neighborhood park about one month ago, but left because the odor was so terrible. It’s a beautiful waterfront park with a walkway. She had taken a friend to walk out over the water, but the smell was too bad, so they left. She would like to take her grandchildren there when they visit from the South, but is afraid they will think New York is stinky. Her granddaughter already says it’s dirty, and she doesn’t want her to say it smells, too. So she probably won’t take them and risk the odors.

Members of Mothers on the Move recently filed a public nuisance lawsuit against the City of New York, Department of Environmental Protection, NYOFCo, Synagro Tech. and The Carlyle Group to resolve the odors emanating from processing sludge into fertilizer.

Thank you.

Thomas Assefa, Mothers on the Move, 718-842-2224 x17