What’s that smell? Mystery odor has officials looking for answers
Residents in north Marana, particularly in the Gladden Farms area, are complaining of a strange smell and accompanying white smoke. The smell began a few weeks ago and has been so bad in some areas that residents have been forced to stay indoors and close windows.
The smell occurs in the morning, usually between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., and has been described by residents as a “chemical smell” or as resembling diesel exhaust. A number of Gladden Farm homeowners took to a Facebook group to share their frustration and compare notes and all reported seeing white smoke or exhaust at the same time the smell is present.
“It is very strong and irritates my throat,” said Gladden Farms resident Christy Hollinger. “I am pretty tolerant to smoke, exhaust, pollen so was a bit surprised this affected me.”
Hollinger said that she was out walking her dogs when she encountered the smell the first time and by the time she got home, her entire home had the exhaust smell. Others have reported having to roll up windows and turn off the air in the car when driving in the area.
Most believed the smoke to be coming from of two plants off Tangerine Road, either the Cal-Portland Cement plant or the plant belonging to Granite Construction, with several residents insisting that the smoke was coming from the Granite plant, where they make asphalt, among other things.
Hollinger said she has smelled asphalt and tar in the past, but that this is a different smell and far more pungent.
“There have been plenty of times in the past where there is an asphalt/tar smell that comes from the same direction,” said Hollinger. “That smell is not accompanied with smoke that I’ve noticed. I’ve always accepted it as part of living near an asphalt plant.”
There have been a number of complaints to the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality (PDEQ) and the staff is actively looking at the cause of the smell. While most residents believe the smoke and smell are coming from one of the two plants, the county has not found any concrete evidence linking any one thing to the problem.
“It is not clear exactly where the odors are coming from,” said Beth Gorman, senior program manager for the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality “We have not verified the source of odor complaints at this point and are continuing our investigation.”
Gorman explained that the county has gotten a few different complaints, including complaints about the smoke, complaints about the chemical odor and a complaint
about a burning tar smell.
Although several residents are convinced that the problem stems from the Granite Plant, Gorman said that only one complaint specifically mentioned the plant.
“Granite is not the only possible source of odors in the area of Tangerine Road as there are other facilities out there, too,” Gorman said. “So, we are not necessarily pinpointing them as the sole source of odor since only one of the complainants mentioned them specifically.”
She did say a few other complaints were “likely” complaining about the asphalt operation at Granite, but the source of the newer chemical smell could not be identified.
Back in March, PDEQ issued an order of abatement to Granite’s Swan Road facility to cease production of asphalt. According to a press release they were to cease production “until such time as Granite can operate without causing objectionable odors.”
On March 3 PDEQ, Southwest Gas, 911 and Poison Control received “heavy volumes of calls from individuals reporting the odor and expressing health concerns.”
The release also said that several schools in the Tucson Unified School District and Sunnyside Unified School District schools were temporarily evacuated as a precaution.
The order of abatement did not include the Tangerine Road facility and PDEQ inspectors have been out to the plant.
“The Marana plant had no odor concerns and received no public complaints,” Gorman said of a March 22 inspection. “Granite and the other companies in the county use the same asphalt product and have been using it since prior to last year.”
There were complaints in December specifically about the Granite Plant “for morning asphalt/gas odors” and Granite was implicated as the source.
Though Granite was not implicated as the source of the new odors, Gorman did say a PDEQ inspector informed Granite of the issue in the area and that Granite told the department that they were going to do their own internal investigation of the plant’s exhaust gases as well as individual components.
Attempts to contact Granite officials to verify their actions were unsuccessful as of press time.
The situation is even more murky because the Cal-Portland Plant does not fall under the county’s authority and is instead regulated by the state and, according to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), there have been no issues.
“As of right now, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has received no related complaints,” said Caroline Oppleman, the public information officer for ADEQ. “Further, ADEQ’s most recent routine inspection of the Cal Portland Cement Plant state air quality permit conducted earlier this week showed no violations.”
The Town of Marana is aware of the issue and although they have no enforcement powers, they are doing their part to monitor the area and refer any issues to the county.
“From the town of Marana code enforcement side, we are currently monitoring the area for odors and will be reporting any strong odors to PDEQ for follow-up,” said Town of Marana Code Enforcement Officer Bill Lorefice.
Lorefice said that last week, town officials had not smelled anything “overly noxious” but that anyone who is smelling an odor should to contact PDEQ personally and immediately, as it can help PDEQ pinpoint the exact location of the source of the odor.
This is not the only “mystery smell” in Marana. PDEQ has responded to several complaints in the last few months regarding odors in the area near Ina and Cortaro.
“Our inspectors have visited the area at least five times in the last four months,” said Gorman.
Among the areas that PDEQ inspectors have been to in an effort to locate the odor include Fairfax landfill/composting, the Ace Hardware strip mall and the Quarry Pines Golf Course.
Investigators have spoken with the Regional Wastewater Management Department about possible odors.
“To date, PDEQ inspectors have not witnessed any violations of Pima County Code, nor have they found the exact cause of the odor,” said Gorman. “PDEQ is continuing our investigation and has staff who works in that area tracking odor occurrences to further understand patterns such as wind direction and timing of the odors.”
Residents in the area have differing reports of what the smell is. Troy Dimmig lives near the Pines Golf Course and has smelled an asphalt/tar smell that he attributed to area construction, while Julissa Schuster has dealt with a sewage smell.
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