'It's putrid': Residents air grievances about odors from local food plants

Something's in the air - and suburbanites are crying foul.

Residents in Mount Prospect, Des Plaines and St. Charles are up in arms about odors wafting from nearby food producers. And some worry that local governments, eager to attract industry, are turning up their noses at concerns.

In Mount Prospect, residents have complained about Prestige Feed Products, which has operated since 2018 at 431 N. Lakeview Court in the Kensington Business Center. The company produces feed for swine, cattle and pet food markets, but the odor has left a bad taste in the mouths of some neighbors in the business park and across Wolf Road in Des Plaines.

"It's putrid. It's not a pleasing smell," said Des Plaines resident Bill Holtane, a 27-year homeowner in the Longford Glen neighborhood who compared it to the smell of burned cheese. "This thing is that multiplied 100 times."

Holtane said that in 2019, shortly after Prestige moved in, he went running in the area and the smell made him feel sick.

For four years, area residents including Mary Beth Stillmaker have been urging Mount Prospect officials to address their concerns. She has been critical of the village's response, adding that the use was too intense to begin with.

The village has periodically paused Prestige's activities with cease-and-desist orders until the odor problem is resolved. Faced with the possibility of the village's shutting down the operation, Prestige recently took legal action, pursuing a temporary restraining order. Prestige and the village reached an agreement that allows the company to operate at night.

The company also committed to installing improved equipment to suppress the odors.

"The long game here is to install another piece of odor remediation equipment in October of this year," Prestige attorney Riccardo DiMonte said. "We're hoping that this new piece of equipment will eliminate 100% of the complaints completely."

But in the meantime, Village Manager Michael Cassady said the odors at Prestige "have been more consistent and pronounced. Virtually every time they're running, we're getting complaints from adjacent neighborhoods and businesses."

In St. Charles, the Smithfield plant produces dried sausage, mainly pepperoni and salami, churning out about 137 million pounds of meat annually. Odors reach residents on the city's east side.

The plant has drawn the attention of city council members, including Mark Foulkes, who said at a Government Operations Committee meeting, "Since the year has turned, I'll guess once or twice a week, from where I'm living, I can smell something I should not be able to smell."

Another on the council, Jayme Muenz, told the committee that she has friends who avoid going by the Main Street Commons shopping center "because they don't want to be in that environment with the smell."

Smithfield plant engineer Whit Divilbiss and plant manager Ashton Williams told committee members they have made great strides in recent months to mitigate the odor. Divilbiss said the smell results from meat in the wastewater and liquid waste created during many of the plant processes, which must go through the plant's wastewater treatment facility.

The smell, he said, is likely getting worse because of multiple expansions and an uptick in production since 2019.

Residents across the suburbs have taken their grievances to village boards and city councils, with varying degrees of success.

Des Plaines Mayor Andrew Goczkowski said his city has learned from Mount Prospect's experience with Prestige when it considered the relocation of a Chicago kimchi factory to Des Plaines.

Last month, the Des Plaines city council tentatively approved a conditional use permit allowing 5000 Years Foods to operate at 984 Lee St.

City officials visited an existing plant and made the permit contingent upon regular inspections, while also holding out the prospect of penalties if odor and noise standards weren't met.

Goczkowski said he appreciates the need for economic development in a period when retail stores are in decline.

"We live in a world where you can go on Amazon or you can go on Wayfair and ... you can purchase things. When our communities are trying to be business-friendly, we want to have a broad base of entities, whether it's industrial or commercial," he said.

"And so, when a producer says, 'Hey, we purchased this building. We want to operate in your city,' I think most cities jump at that. But again, you have to weigh (whether there are) repercussions or anything you're not thinking of. And if there are, what are you going to do to make it right?"

• Shaw Media contributed to this report.

  Neighbors say they are fed up with the unpleasant odors coming from Prestige Feed Products in Mount Prospect. Joe Lewnard/
  Neighbors say Prestige Feed Products in Mount Prospect has been causing unpleasant odors from its animal feed plant. Joe Lewnard/
  Neighbors say Prestige Feed Products in Mount Prospect is making their lives difficult due to the unpleasant odors coming from its plant. Joe Lewnard/
  Neighbors say Prestige Feed in Mount Prospect, which occupies the nearest portion of the structure in this view, has been causing unpleasant odors from its animal feed plant. Joe Lewnard/
  Neighbors say Prestige Feed Products in Mount Prospect is sending unpleasant odors into their backyards. Joe Lewnard/
  Longford Glen in Des Plaines is one of the subdivisions affected by Prestige Feed Products. Brian Hill/
  Des Plaines neighbors, from left, Brian Wilk, Mary Ann Solida, Mary Beth Stillmaker, Alouise Gredell, Alan Gredell, Sargon Merza and Joe Alosio complain of odors in the area caused by a Mount Prospect plant. Brian Hill/
  Longford Glen neighbors, from left, Sargon Merza, Alan Gredell, Mary Ann Solida, Mary Beth Stillmaker and Alouise Gredell complain of odors in the area caused by a Mount Prospect plant. Brian Hill/
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