KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Workers near an East Knoxville business said the offensive smells coming from a neighboring business are driving customers and employees away — and they're begging the county to step in.
After months of complaining to the county's air quality inspectors about vile odors, business owners near Liquid Environmental Solutions off Cherry Street said they plan to take their case to the Air Pollution Control Board at a meeting Wednesday.
They said the smell from the grease processing plant is so bad, it keeps customers away and causes employees to gag and leave work early.
"It’s like all the worst smells you could possibly think of — dead animal, rotting meat, garbage — all thrown into one," said Carol Wilson, the Lubrication Equipment Vice President. "It makes you literally not want to breathe in."
The company is based in Irving, Texas and said it provides an essential service to local restaurants, grocery stores and retailers.
"[Liquid Environmental Solutions] has all necessary permits and is located in an area that is properly zoned for this activity," the company said in a statement. "LES has made significant investments in the facility and adjusted our operations to minimize odors."
But workers at businesses nearby said the smell has continued to worsen over the past year and a half.
"You get that salty taste in the back of your throat like you get right before you’re about to throw up. That’s what it does to you," said George Eldridge.
He said the smell permeates his workspace, making it difficult to work — let alone eat lunch.
He said he has filed hundreds of complaints with the Knox County Health Department's Air Quality Division, but he's frustrated with the progress. Wilson said by the time inspectors arrive after neighbors call in complaints, the wind has shifted and the smell diminished.
"Unfortunately this is kind of a case-by-case analysis because of the subjectivity of a lot of these odors," said KCHD Air Quality Division Director Brian Rivera. "We do work with our businesses to get these odors controlled."
It's not just business owners, Tanner Jessel lives in the Parkridge neighborhood across the interstate and said he can smell the plant when the wind blows from the north.
"There are days when you can actually taste the smell," he said. Now, he checks the wind direction before walking his dog. "You can smell this smell along the entire block."
LES said it is working with the Air Quality Control Board to make sure its operations are in compliance.
"LES is, and will continue to be, committed to minimizing odors arising out of our operations," the company said. "Helping local businesses manage their grease waste is an essential service and is vital to the environment and the local community. LES’s services keep local restaurants, grocery stores, and retailers running and compliant, and help to prevent sanitary sewer overflows and problems."
Eldridge plans to take his complaints against the company to the Board at its meeting on Wednesday at 4 p.m. in the City-County Building.