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The sniff test: Is offensive downtown odor gone?

Matthew Lane • Nov 3, 2015 at 10:00 AM

KINGSPORT – The air in downtown may not be perfect, but the smell is definitely better.

While the residents of Kingsport have had to deal with offensive odors pretty much since the city's inception, a particularly pungent smell came into being earlier this year, most noticeably in the downtown area.

City hall and the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce received a number of complaints this past year about a new, fairly offensive smell in the downtown area with city and industry leaders struggling to identify its source. At the time, officials said the cause could be a change in an industrial process.

Discussions took place between the mayor, city staff, chamber officials and representatives of Eastman Chemical Company, Domtar, AirGas and BAE Systems, along with the city's public works department, to determine the cause of the smell.

Since then, the industries have been reviewing their processes to see if they were the source of this new smell. Whatever was done, it's had an impact on the odor in downtown.

“I do believe the smell downtown has improved significantly,” said Sherri Mosley, executive director of the Downtown Kingsport Association. “I can't say it's 100 percent gone yet, but it has definitely improved.”

Betty Payne, corporate communications at Eastman, said when the odor issue in downtown became apparent, the company began a thorough assessment of its operations to determine if any of its production was the originating source.

“Nothing unusual was found,” Payne said in a statement to the Times-News. “We are confident the odor in question is not associated with our manufacturing processes.”

Bill MacPherson, mill manager at Domtar, said Domtar did not do anything after the Times-News story that it wasn't doing before the story.

“The thing about our facility is, there's a number of people who think our operations change from day to day. They don't,” MacPherson said. “We've not have any new processes come online.”

Beginning in the March and April time frame, Domtar officials started investigating its processes to determine if it was the source of this new odor, consulting with an outside expert to audit the processes to see if the company was missing anything.

“They did not turn up anything of a problem that would be causing the odor,” MacPherson said. “We'll continue to monitor our processes, but we've not found a link to anything, if there was, coming from us. Hopefully, the problem is resolved.”

After meeting with local industry officials earlier this summer about the issue, Mayor John Clark said recently something must have been done because he has not received any more complaints about the offensive odor.

“Citizens have expressed improvement in odor offensiveness but still desire a more permanent solution to the issue,” Clark said.

At last week's One Kingsport summit, participants listed “air quality” as one of the top challenges the city faces. Clark said city and industry officials are planning to meet again to review the outcomes from the summit, including the importance of downtown to Kingsport's future.

Downtown Kingsport is in the heart of major industry and most people would probably say it is unrealistic to think 100 percent of the offensive odors could be done away with.

“I do hope our current administration continues to encourage our community partners to strive for non-offensive odor,” Mosley said. “It's vital to our long term success.”

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