Any sweetness found during a meeting Wednesday night between State Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, and her constituents would begin and end with the candy she passed out beforehand.
Gloom, doom and a pervasive stink dominated the discussion, which served as a follow-up meeting to a public hearing hosted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources on June 28 regarding Archer Daniel Midland Company’s desire to use two new solvents.
“When you smell that chemical coming out of there, it’s going to kill us,” said Marty Houzenga, a South Clinton resident. “It’s death.”
Wolfe, along with State Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, listened to comments, complaints and questions from South Clinton residents, many of whom believe that emissions from the ADM facility are destroying their quality of life. In addition to publicly railing against the fugitive emissions produced by the biotechnology plant, South Clinton residents have filed a nuisance suit against the company.
Residents allege that ADM’s proposal to use additional solvents in its operating processes, one of which is a proven air pollutant, will make an already bad situation worse. While the smell believed to be coming from the plant is the most frequent complaint, residents also claim fugitive emissions cause respiratory issues, kill small animals and are responsible for turning the houses in South Clinton green.
“There’s nothing to fight for anymore,” said Mark Herch, vice president of the South Clinton Citizens Association said. “There’s no neighborhood.
“We’re not just losing our homes, we’re losing our community.”
The DNR also became a target for South Clinton residents. Ed Broderick, president of the South Clinton Citizen’s Association, said he had personally met with a DNR inspector who assured him that the smell produced by ADM was hazardous.
Yet, residents say, no air monitoring system has been put in place. Not in the traditional sense, anyway.
“We have an air monitoring system and we don’t need the DNR to check it,” said South Clinton Resident Tom Crider. “Just look at the trees. All of the trees that ADM owns on Fourth Street are dying.”
Wolfe said she had been informed by ADM officials that a tree specialist determined that the trees were infected with a fungus, leading to their poor growth.
Wolfe asked the gathered residents several questions, and discussed the property of an ADM buyout. The residents responded that the buyout offers were far too low, though some acknowledged that they had not made efforts to discuss buyout options with ADM.
Wolfe said while she understands the concerns of South Clinton residents, if ADM is following the rules they will likely be permitted to use the new solvents.
“If they’re able to convince the DNR they’re following the rules, they’re going to get the permit,” Wolfe said.
She added that conversations with the DNR revealed that department has few options, as long as ADM operates within state regulations.
“One of the things they told me is that smell isn’t unlawful,” Wolfe said.
Bowman said the best course of action would be to gather all the facts, and involve other parties like the department of public health and federal legislators.
“Let us ask the questions,” Bowman said. “Let us get to the bottom of it.”
Wolfe said while the situation was unpleasant, and the options limited, it’s a positive sign that the community would publicly unite for the issue.
“This is the most people I’ve seen in one room to talk about problems they have and ways to face them,” Wolfe said. “You have to keep doing what you’re doing. Keep making noise.”
DNR officials have not yet distributed written responses to comments made at the June 28 meeting, nor have they made a final determination on the status of ADM’s permit.