PEABODY — If you smelled a funky odor last week, you’re not alone.
Neighbors, the city’s Health Department and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) quickly identified the culprit as Rousselot.
The global company with a Peabody factory across from police headquarters on Allens Lane was fined $3,000 by the city for what they called “excessive odors.” In addition, DEP has ordered the company to meet with them on Aug. 13. The session, which is not open to the public, could result in enforcement orders or fines for Rousselot if the problem is not fixed.
“When I spoke to the DEP about the stench, the exact description I provided was it smells like a decomposing body,” said Kristin Cafarelli on Facebook. “It’s horrible.”
Founded in France in 1891 by Edouard Rousselot, the company calls itself the world’s largest name in gelatin, an ingredient used in pharmaceutical, food and nutrition products.
Sharon Cameron, Peabody’s Health and Human Services director, said the issue of offensive smells at the factory dates back decades and has resulted in a number of enforcement actions.
The odors stem from the company’s onsite wastewater treatment plant which is designed to process gel byproducts before they are discharged into the sewer system, she said.
“We received 40 complaints about nuisance odors over the past week and confirmed them,” Cameron said.
The calls came from the Emerson Park neighborhood, and residents and businesses from Lowell, Foster and Washington streets.
“We have been dealing with odor complaints with Rousselot for many years and a few years ago required them to hire an odor consultant,” she said.
The expert completed an analysis of the smells and crafted a mitigation plan, Cameron said. Among the solutions included covering the company’s wastewater treatment tanks, installing filters and constructing an air curtain to prevent odors from escaping.
“They spent millions of dollars and made significant improvements to their facilities,” she said. “We were really hopeful that the fixes have made a significant impact on the nuisance odor.”
In fact, Cameron said the summer has seen few complaints.
But last week, she said, a piece of equipment broke at the plant which resulted in a strong odor being released. The city issued $1,000 tickets, the maximum fine, on July 23, 24, and 25.
“It really was as terrible as the neighbors say,” she said.
Corinne Jean posted on Facebook she has lived near Rousselot for nearly 40 years.
“This has been a seasonal problem for many of those years … I can honestly say it is the worst since I moved here …” she wrote.
Corey Carter, Rousselot’s plant manager, did not return calls seeking comment over two days.
The smell was so bad, the city contacted DEP and the agency sent two wastewater treatment inspectors, who confirmed the problems, according to spokesman Ed Coletta.
As a result of the unannounced visit, Coletta said DEP officials will meet with Rousselot or their attorneys to determine the next steps.
Cameron said DEP’s involvement is key because the state issues permits for wastewater processing and air pollution equipment. The agency has a number of tools in the toolbox, she said.
Resident Michelle Melanson suggested homeowners and tenants join the Peabody Rousselot Neighborhood Facebook page.
“There are lots of excuses and reasons they give, but the group of more than 200 are giving them a run for their money,” she wrote. “Check it out.”