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Studies Aimed at Resolving South Bay Odor Issues

The South Bay Odor Stakeholders Group (SBOSG) was formed in 2015 to identify causes of unwanted odors in the area and resolve the odor issues. The group consists of municipal leaders, members of the private sector, government regulators and community members.

That same year the number of complaints about odors in Milpitas increased considerably, despite residents having complained about odors for years prior. In 2014, less than a thousand complaints are on file, but in 2015, there were well over 3,500 complaints. Between 2016 and the first part of 2018 the numbers dropped back to roughly the 2014 levels, however, residents are still being impacted by odors, especially when outdoors. At a Milpitas City Council meeting on Aug. 7, 2018, residents spoke about an uptick in odors.

“Milpitas has been suffering from odors for quite some time,” said Eric Stevenson, air quality officer at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD). “It’s difficult to assess because perception of the odors is somewhat personal and subjective. We don’t have regional monitoring stations for odors in Milpitas.”


Because of these persistent odors, two studies are underway to pinpoint the compounds causing the odors as well as the source of the compounds so that they can be dealt with. One study is being conducted by the City of Milpitas that has installed air monitors on utility poles, and the other by BAAQMD. According to Stevenson, there have been odor issues in the past in other parts of the Bay Area but the current studies will delve much deeper than past inquiries and will work in tandem for a more robust and complete analysis.

“The Milpitas situation is very complex and it’s difficult to attribute the exact source of the odors,” he added.

Possible culprits for what’s causing the unpleasant smells in Milpitas are the proximity of a landfill called the Newby Island Resource Recovery Park, the Newby Island Compost Facility and the San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility. According to City data, July is also a high month for complaints and some community members have attributed the odors to rotting garbage and sewage as well as unidentifiable sources.

The BAAQMD’s study hasn’t officially begun, but following an RFP process, two contracts were awarded and a project is being developed. BAAQMD’s Board of Directors is expected to approve the funding for the study in the near future. Stevenson said that the focus of the study will likely be on facilities in Milpitas and San Jose that are suspected as being sources of the odor, though inquires could reach beyond those cities.

Part of the work will be holding meetings with the City of Milpitas as well as the SBOSG. A City Council meeting is scheduled for Sept. 16 to address the topic, and once a scope of work has been established, BAAQMD will meet with SBOSG.

“The three facilities are a common source but we need to do comprehensive studies to find what is causing specific odors,” Stevenson explained. “The breadth of this study and the resources utilized are fairly cutting edge and quite broad in scope. We’ll continue to work with the Stakeholders Group to come to a successful outcome.”

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