Richmond smell linked to composting plant

RICHMOND (KTVU) -- Contra Costa county health officials have issued a cease-and-desist order to a Richmond composting facility after hundreds of people complained about terrible smells from the facility.

Inspectors recently visited the site and say they found unsafe conditions at the facility, indicating serious operational problems at the facility.

Marilyn Underwood, the county's environmental health director, said the plant handles green waste from west and central Contra Costa County, including waste from residents in Richmond and Walnut Creek.

The complaints started last September from residents near the West Contra Costa Sanitary Landfill Organic Materials Processing Facility located at 1 Parr Blvd. is a potential fire hazard, and has had over 400 complaints since September from the surrounding community for foul odors. County health services officials said residents complained about noxious, foul smells.

"There were a total of 400 calls that came in not only to our facility but to the Air Board and the city of Richmond," said Victoria Balladares, a county spokeswoman. "We did receive reports of people with headache, nausea, and some throat irritation."

The county sent environmental health inspectors to the sprawling compost site, which is owned and operated by Republic Services.

"While our health inspectors were there, they noticed seven fires. So when we see a fire at a compost facility what we know is there's something wrong," Balladares said.

Photos from county inspectors show smoke from the fires. And Underwood said when compost is not turned enough, the buildup of heat from the microbes can cause the compost to self-combust.

According to records, the facility was fined $45,000 in October, but failed to address the problems.

That prompted the county to issue the cease-and-desist order on Jan. 24, 2016. The order included a deadline to comply with the county's safe operating codes.

"Although it's not dangerous, it is a nuisance and it can impact the quality of life," Balladares said.

KTVU contacted the facility for a comment but as of Thursday night the station had not received a response.

County officials have ordered the facility to submit a plan by Feb. 1 that are expected to address how the plant will correct and address the problems.

If Republic Services does not comply, the facility could receive more fines or be stripped of its operating permit.

By KTVU reporter Jana Katsuyama.

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