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Ryan Johnson, Grand Forks Herald, Published June 09 2009

Bacteria-ridden water causes stink

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – Summer is officially here, even if the weather doesn’t seem like it yet. But along with the season comes something local residents don’t eagerly anticipate – the occasionally overpowering smell rising from treatment ponds at the American Crystal Sugar plant in East Grand Forks, Minn.

Lloyd Kennedy, factory manager at the plant, said this latest round of stench that blanketed wide areas on both sides of the river happened because a pond became “active.” That means bacteria in the water started to consume organic materials, mainly sugar, when conditions such as the temperature and pH factor were right.

He said the pond showed some activity Friday, but mostly started causing problems over the weekend. Even with numerous odor controls in place, Kennedy said, this still is a possibility at any time.

“Like I’ve told the City Council in East Grand Forks, we always have potential and this year is no exception,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to control odors. This is one that we couldn’t control.”

Rainy conditions Monday made it hard for workers to use the heavy equipment needed for some of the odor-fighting steps, he said. But Kennedy was hopeful things would be under control soon and said there wasn’t much of an odor by the afternoon.

Kennedy said there are a number of things the plant has done in recent years to make the air a little easier to breathe. One of the five ponds at the facility that can create odor has already received improved aeration, which has “made a big difference,” he said.

Workers place straw covers on some of the ponds to cut the smell, and they are currently working on many infrastructure improvements that will help better process the wastewater. When a stench does arise, workers apply odor chemicals to combat the natural processes that lead to a not-so-sweet aroma.

Work has begun on installing a permanent cover over one of the ponds that could soon lead to more pleasant spring and summer air.

“We’re hopeful that it will make a big difference in this type of situation next year, but we’ve got to get there,” he said.

Wally Helland, environmental health supervisor in Grand Forks, said the fact that the plant is across state boundaries means it’s outside of his control. His office fields numerous complaints each year, with the amount on a given day depending on the time of year and direction of the wind.

But the number of complaints has gone down recently, and he said he’s not aware of any calls about the odor so far this year.

“But smelling it today, it wouldn’t surprise me,” he said Monday. “It’s back today with the wind.”


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