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Residents, Metro Council member call for fix to odor issues in Louisville’s West End

Louisville Metro Council Member Tammy Hawkins, a Democrat representing District 1, speaks to residents and news media Monday morning.
Aprile Rickert
Louisville Metro Council Member Tammy Hawkins, a Democrat representing District 1, called on officials to clarify how they're addressing long-standing issues with sewer odors in the city's West End.

A Louisville Metro Council member is calling on the city’s Metropolitan Sewer District to clarify how it’s addressing long-standing issues with sewer smells in the West End.

Alta Fay Bailey, a resident of Louisville’s Parkland neighborhood, said the sewer smells that irritate her eyes, nose and throat are getting worse.

“It’s time for the city to be held accountable,” Bailey said. “We are citizens; we pay taxes. And we expect the city to work for us like they do other places.”

Bailey was one of several residents who voiced concerns at a city meeting Monday over long-standing sewer odor issues, and was looking for answers from city officials.

Metro Council Member Tammy Hawkins held the conference with residents and representatives from Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District and the city’s air quality regulators at the Air Pollution Control District.

Hawkins is a Democrat representing District 1, which includes the Parkland, Chickasaw and Park Duvalle neighborhoods in West Louisville.

She said her office has received “a multitude” of questions related to the odors this year. She called on officials to explain to the public how they’re addressing the long-standing issue.

“Today, for me, is more or less accountability. Let the city understand that MSD [and the APCD] is taking ownership of this and willing to work on this,” Hawkins said.

Much of the aging city’s sewer system is designed to catch both storm water and sewage. Dry weather can cause foul odors to escape, and the stench is worse in West End neighborhoods that are closest to the wastewater treatment plant.

Rachael Hamilton, with the APCD, said they’ve received about 2,000 odor complaints since Aug. 1. Over the weekend they had about 80 — around 7% of which reported smells other than the sewer.

And she said while they do receive odor complaints across the county, the “predominant amount of complaints by far” come from west of Ninth Street.

That’s because these neighborhoods sit at the lowest elevation in the combined sewer system, holding sewage there longer.

Tony Parrott, director of MSD, said the department has been in talks with Hawkins and other council members, specifically about the smell in west Louisville. He attributed the issue in part to an aging sewer pipe system within the area surrounded by the Watterson Expressway that was designed to self-clean — when it rains. He said it’s been more than 130 days since the city has seen an inch of rain or more.

“So if we're not getting the rain to flush out a self-cleaning system, that will lead to an increase in odors throughout the system,” he said, adding that it’s an issue in other parts of the city too.

He said MSD has been working with the APCD over the last 18 months on short- and long-term improvements, including ongoing work to repair or replace catch basins — the grates or drains alongside the road that catch rain runoff. He listed work on these in the California, Chickasaw, Park Duvalle, Shawnee, Taylor Berry and Park Hill neighborhoods.

He said complaints help MSD identify odor issues so that crews can flush catch basins and help deodorize that area. They’re also working with the Louisville Water Company to use its hydrant-flushing program in areas where they see complaints, and have hired contractors to put water in the system as well.

Longer-term, he said the city is investing in “significant odor control improvements” at the Morris Forman Water Quality Treatment Center, with about $10 million of an $250 million biosolids improvement project dedicated to the issue. It’s expected to be finished in 2026.

Hawkins, the metro council member, said even if this is causing odor issues in other parts of the city, “District 1 is the worst,” she said. “Let’s be clear, it’s not the only concern [there], and natural odors, yeah, are probably all over the city, but not as bad as the West End.

There were other residents who shared concerns about how the smell affects their quality of life, and their health. One woman reported that she’s gotten sick from smells coming in from the grate near her bedroom window.

Frank Anderson has lived in the Shawnee neighborhood for 26 years, and said it’s always been an issue.

“This has been going on for years,” he said, adding that the release of chemicals from nearby companies, as well as flight patterns over West Louisville, have a big impact on residents there.

“So it’s not just one MSD, it’s a combination of things.”

The APCD is in the process of getting a hydrogen sulfide analyzer for its Algonquin Park air monitoring site, along with handheld sensors on loan from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.

Hydrogen sulfide is a gas with a distinct rotten eggs smell that occurs naturally in places like sewers. Data collected will be shared with the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness Department.

Representatives with MSD will also provide information to the public at a District 1 public meeting Nov. 29 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Southwick Community Center. Representatives with the APCD will also be there. Community members can also attend the next APCD regular meeting this Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Edison Center.

To report odors, call the APCD at 502-574-6000 or find other options for reporting here. If the odor could be a threat to immediate health or safety, call 911.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the date of the meeting at the Southwick Community Center. It is Nov. 29 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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