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Brawley torn over beef plant benefits, smell

March 29, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL
  • Duarte Drive resident Catalina Martinez says she thinks her stress-related illness is a result of pungent odors emitting from the plant. DON THOMPSON PHOTO

Staff Writer

More than 150 people gathered at a hearing Thursday night by the county Air Pollution Control District to find out what is going to be done about odors coming from the Brawley Beef plant.

Residents living near the plant say the smell is making them sick and destroying their quality of life.

The community is torn between the problems caused by the plant's odors and the benefit of new jobs in a county that until last year historically had the highest unemployment rate in the state.

The district's hearing board voted 3-0 to require Brawley Beef to meet certain requirements, including:

· installing a pond cover and gas recovery system by April 3;

· making the entire lagoon system ready to work by May 13;

· filing a weekly progress report to the district every Thursday;

· meeting district air-quality requirements by May 13.

Hearing board chairman Tom DuBose excused himself from the hearing because he is working on the odor problems in his role as a paid liaison between the city and the plant.


According to APCD documents, the district made several inspections and confirmed the odors. Inspectors found the main source of the odor to be the plant's 5-acre anaerobic lagoon.

Brawley Beef officials plan to install a membrane over one of the three lagoons, which will trap gases. The gases will be drawn off the lagoon and burned. The gas is made up of 60 percent methane, 35 percent carbon dioxide and the remaining gases, which cause most of the foul odor, are mercaptan and hydrogen-sulphide.

Beef plant officials have said construction on the lagoons is ongoing and as the work is completed the odors will cease. They stated in an earlier article that by April 30 the odors will no longer be an issue.

Bill Brandt, one of the owners of Brawley Beef and a lifetime resident of the Valley, assured residents he and the other owners are not going to walk away from the problem. Brandt said the problem got away from the owners but nothing was intentional.

"This odor problem is going to be taken care of," he said.

Twenty people testified about the plant. Some said they support the plant and the more than 700 jobs it created for the county. Others said the smell makes them and their children sick.

Brawley Union High School physical education teacher Betsy Enders said she can confirm the smell is making children sick.

"I notice I have a huge increase in the number of children suffering from respiratory problems," Enders said of her classes.

She said since the plant opened she's gotten more notes from parents stating their child spent the night in the hospital or the emergency room with asthma.

Enders has been a teacher at Brawley Union for 22 years and said she has never seen an increase in children's health problems like this.

Rudy Nuñez of Brawley said it's great to have jobs, but he wants to see a written guarantee that the odor problem will stop.

"This situation can be controlled. Local sanitation departments and the Holly Sugar Plant have the same problem, but they use deodorizers," Nuñez said.

Brawley Beef employee Robert McKay said there is no doubt there is a bad smell but the benefits outweigh the discomfort of the odor. There are more than 700 people on the company's payroll and those people are getting better wages than ever, plus benefits for themselves and their children, McKay said.

Another Brawley Beef employee, Feliepe Martinez, said through a translator he was unemployed and could not afford to celebrate Christmas and buy presents for his daughters in December. Because of Brawley Beef, Martinez said he has a job and benefits for his family. They celebrated Christmas two weeks ago.

Those who spoke also asked questions about the safety of the chemicals used by the plant. The chemicals used to neutralize the odors are all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved, DuBose said after the hearing.

The chemicals ferrous chloride and hydrogen peroxide are very safe, ferrous chloride is used to treat drinking water and hydrogen peroxide is found in mouthwash and toothpaste, he said.

More information about chemicals used at the plant will be available at the APCD office, DuBose said.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or

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