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'Foul smell': South St. Pete community says they've dealt with odor for decades

“Sometimes it smells like something is burning or a gas smell and it’s a foul smell.”
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Posted at 8:37 AM, May 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-16 18:41:23-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — For decades, residents in the Childs Park neighborhood say they've experienced a foul odor that impacts their quality of life.

"Sometimes it smells like something is burning or a gas smell, and it's a foul smell," said Karen Jordan.

Jordan has lived in the neighborhood for two and a half years. She was excited to sign the mortgage on her home, but if you ask her if she knew about that foul odor that permeates the community, she would say she had no idea.

Jordan said she only started noticing the bad smells soon after moving in.

"Well, my neighbor that lives next door to me, she would come out and say, 'do you smell that?' And I would be like 'yes,'" said Jordan.

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Angela Williams is her neighbor.

"The scent goes right inside my living room. It seems like I'm into an oil, gas tank or something," said Williams.

Williams has lived in the community for 28 years. She said the odor often gets her sick, and residents have complained about it for decades.

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After a recent article by the Tampa Bay Times, we wanted to look into this issue ourselves.

"It seems like, you know, nothing has been done. The people that's been complaining, the ones that's been here as long as I have," said Williams.

Williams and Jordan live right across the street from an oil recycling plant. There is a whole industrial corridor right in the middle of the neighborhood.

Childs Park is a primarily Black neighborhood. According to a study conducted by the N.A.A.C.P. and the Clean Air Task Force, African Americans are 75% more likely than other Americans to live in so-called "fenceline communities."

These are neighborhoods adjacent to companies, industrial centers or military facilities that expose the residents to noise, odors and potentially harmful chemicals. Experts believe this is due to poverty and the history of redlining, essentially using laws and lending practices to force African Americans into less desirable neighborhoods.

"As an individual school board member, I think that the children and families in this neighborhood deserve an environment or a place to live free of odors," said Caprice Edmond.

Edmond serves on the Pinellas County School Board. She said faculty at the local Fairmount Park Elementary School told her that the odor can be disruptive.

"Some people said, 'Well, yeah. We smell it often. Sometimes, we have to bring the kids inside from recess because the odor is so strong," said Edmond.

We wanted to know what local authorities were doing about this quality-of-life issue. So, we went to Clearwater to speak to Sheila Schneider at the Pinellas County Department of Environmental Management. We asked her why it appeared to be so difficult to pinpoint exactly where the odor originated.

"Weather conditions change. People don't always know exactly what they're smelling. So, it's hard to get them to pinpoint what we need to go out and look for. There are different types of facilities in the area," said Schneider.

She said they regularly inspect the facilities with permits in the industrial corridor, which are currently operating within their permit conditions.

"Now, there are some sources that may not require permits, and we are investigating those to see if they're contributing to the issue," said Schneider.

"That's the other part about it. Like, generational. We just be talking about asthma run in my family, but we don't know that it might be coming from some type of environmental pollutant," Brother John Muhammad, president of the Childs Park Neighborhood Association, said.

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"So this is our 'Smell Something, Say Something' campaign, and what we did is we created a postcard and using this postcard, we're going door-to-door talking to residents, letting them know that if they smell odors, we're asking them to report it right away," said Muhammad.

Muhammad hopes that the community will have a unified voice through the campaign, stressing the importance of getting rid of an odor and the right to breathe fresh air.

If you're a resident of Childs Park and you smell something, you can fill out the Smell Something, Say Something campaign here or call the Pinellas County Air Quality Division at (727) 464-4422.