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The Curious Case of the Scarborough Stench - Toronto Star

July 29, 2010
Amy Dempsey
Staff Reporter
Toronto Star

John McDonald of Scarborough says a foul smell wafts into his yard from the nearby Atlantic Packing plant. 

Nearly every day since March, John McDonald and his family have been forced indoors by a stench that invades their backyard for hours at a time.

At best, it smells like soggy cardboard. At worst, it’s a mix of rotten eggs, sewage and burnt rubber.

“You can’t stay in the backyard,” McDonald said. “It’s brutal.”

His wife, Sandy, hosted a poolside bachelorette party a couple of weeks ago, but her swimsuit-clad guests were forced inside when the stench crashed the event.

Their two young children can’t play outside for hours at a time when the smell is lurking. Sandy said they can’t even open their windows on a breezy summer day because the odour leaks into their home.

“It’s rancid,” she said. “No one wants to be here when it happens. It’s constant.”

The main source of the Scarborough stench seems to be coming from two brown paper mills owned by Atlantic Packaging — at 333 Progress Ave. and 111 Progress Ave.

More than 80 residents, most from the Birkdale and Midland Park neighbourhoods, have complained about the odour and intermittent noise they say have been emanating from Atlantic’s industrial facilities with increasing frequency since late last year.

In March, the Toronto Environmental Alliance stepped in to organize a Good Neighbour Campaign to help the company and community resolve the issue.

Atlantic has since launched an investigation to figure out what exactly is causing the odour problem.

McDonald said he’s pleased the company has acknowledged that the stench seems to be coming from its facility, but is upset Atlantic is leading its own investigation.

“They clearly have a vested interest in the outcome,” he said.

Environment ministry spokeswoman Kate Jordan said there are no plans to conduct an independent investigation at this time because Atlantic is voluntarily trying to correct the problem.

“The company is taking the actions that we would require on their own, they’re being cooperative,” she said. “Certainly we will continue to monitor the work that they’re doing.”

Atlantic has been looking into the problem since March, but still hasn’t figured out why things have gone sour.

“We’re working on it,” said Fatima Correia, Atlantic’s environmental systems manager.

The company has hired environmental consultants, keeps the community informed about its progress through an online notice board and has attended public meetings organized by the Toronto Environmental Alliance.

Atlantic makes brown paper products at the 333 Progress Ave. plant that is the subject of most of the complaints.

“To me, it smells typical of a brown mill,” Correia said. “We’re odiferous, just like the Patty King is and Dad’s Cookies and a few of the other industries around us.”

But the scent that hangs in the neighbourhood air is no chocolate chip treat.

Correia said the company hasn’t changed its production process in years. Atlantic’s first objective is to figure out why the odour has become so strong in recent months.

“And if it is our baseline smell that people are not fond of,” she added, “then how do we reduce that to the point where people can tolerate it?”

Heather Marshall, coordinator of the Good Neighbour Campaign, said she’s impressed with Atlantic’s cooperation.

“We really do see this as a good sign that the company does want to resolve any issues that they may have,” she said.

Though initially there were concerns the smell could be toxic or harmful, Marshall said based on publically disclosed records Atlantic fully complies with environmental and health regulations.

Residents are also concerned because the company has asked the province for permission to increase production at its 111 Progress Ave. facility. They want to see the smell problem resolved before that happens.

Local city councillor Michael Thompson is holding a public meeting on the issue at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Scarborough Civic Centre. Neighbourhood concerns will also be discussed at a community meeting to be held at 6:30 p.m. next Wednesday at the Birkdale Community Centre. They will be the third and fourth gatherings held to discuss the stench.

McDonald said he doesn’t understand why it’s taking so long to find a solution.

“What are we having another meeting for?” he said. “To talk about how bad you smelled it this day, that day? Who cares? 

“I would just like to get the problem resolved.”

As published here: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/841595--the-curious-case-of-the-scarborough-stench