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Great Lakes Article:

Residents near plant sickened by odor
Neenah company insists chemical not from facility

By Duke Behnke
Published June 07, 2004


NEENAH — Diane Schanke said a glue-like smell emanating from the Southpark Industrial Center is so strong that it permeates her garage and makes her 8-year-old son vomit.

“When he steps out into the garage, he comes running back in with his hand over his mouth to run to the bathroom and throw up,” Schanke, 2413 Brantwood Drive, said Friday.

Bob Dalton, 2428 Woodland Terrace, said he was mowing his lawn earlier last week when the wind shifted and carried the smell to his yard, making him sick. “I had to go inside,” he said.

Residents and city officials blame Outlook Label Systems, 2411 Industrial Drive, for the odor, but the company says vinyl acetate, the chemical believed to cause the odor, isn’t used in its manufacturing processes.

Outlook Label produces pressure-sensitive labels and flexible packaging. Vinyl acetate is used to make glues for the packaging and building industries.

Joseph Baksha, president of Outlook Group Corp., said there was a remote possibility the odor was caused by a reaction of chemicals used by Outlook Label. To be good neighbors, he said the company spent more than $100,000 to rebuild its oxidizer and raise its exhaust stack.

The oxidizer is designed to control solvent emissions by burning them at a high temperature.

“We’ve tested the unit, and it’s destroying almost 100 percent at this point in time,” Baksha said. “If there was any possibility that chemical was coming out of our facility, there is no way it is coming out now.”

Residents in the area are still documenting the smell, however. Schanke said she noticed it twice Friday and five times since last Tuesday. “It is still there,” she said. “There is no doubt about it.”

Mayor George Scherck said the city has taken the problem seriously. Scherck, City Atty. James Godlewski, Public Health Director Judith Smolarek and Sanitarian Don Day all have made trips to the area to investigate.

Neenah also has sought help from the state Department of Natural Resources and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Scherck said the DNR sampled emissions from Outlook Label and found it in compliance with air-quality standards. Neenah since has requested the DNR conduct a more comprehensive review.

Until the result is known, Scherck said he is at a loss about what to do.

“We have brought in every state agency that has any authority here, and we have brought in every city official who has any area of authority,” he said. “I am not sure what the solution is right now.”

Marge Bates, 2421 Woodland Terrace, said the odor first was noticed in April 2003. She said it is dependent upon wind conditions and that it can smother her neighborhood “at any time, day or night 6½ days a week.”

She said her neighbors detected the smell on 112 days within a 10-month period. She said the smell was strong enough to restrict outdoor activities on 61 of those days and to sicken residents on 20 of those days.

“Just working out in our yards could cause migraine-type headaches and retching,” Bates said.

Linda Morey, 2417 Brantwood Drive, said the smell descends upon her yard.

“It just hangs there,” she said. “I can’t be outside. I have to go inside.”


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