Diageo official says distillery has fixed foul odor issue

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ST. CROIX - An official with Diageo USVI said Thursday that he believes the company has fixed the issue that prompted complaints from residents of surrounding neighborhoods about a foul odor emanating from the distillery.

Bob Bowman, vice-president of Diageo USVI, said the smell is a byproduct of the processing of molasses.

It is a vapor that comes from what is left over after the alcohol is removed, according to Bowman. The company sells the byproduct as cattle feed, he said.

Bowman said that after receiving complaints about the smell from the community last week, Diageo staff did some troubleshooting and discovered a malfunction in the ventilation system that removes nontoxic vapors from the company's process tanks.

"We believe we have fixed this," he said.

Some residents of the neighborhoods near the Diageo rum distillery, including Estate Profit and the Harvey housing community, gathered Wednesday evening at El Flamboyant restaurant to voice their concerns about the stench they say they often smell coming from the distillery.

Organizers had invited public officials, residents and Diageo officials to the meeting, although no one from Diageo came. Several senators, Health Commissioner Darice Plaskett and St. Croix administrator Dodson James did attend the meeting and listened to residents' complaints.

El Flamboyant owner Eddie Ortiz said residents are "sick and tired of dealing with this problem."

Other residents also expressed their concerns about the stink. One said that where and how bad the smell is depends on which way the wind is blowing.

On Wednesday night, the odor was not apparent.

Plaskett said the Health Department would investigate the complaints that were aired at the meeting.

Bowman said Thursday that Diageo employees last week identified the system that was creating the problem and identified where the malfunction occurred.

The vapor from the molasses byproduct is supposed to go through a scrubber, according to Bowman. Employees eventually discovered that there were two valves that had failed to close, causing the release of some of the vapors.

"It was corrected, we felt, by Friday night, but we verified it on Saturday morning that the system malfunction was corrected," Bowman said. Diageo has been monitoring the system since then, he said.

"We felt it was normal operations around here for processes," Bowman said.

He said the company had been in communication with Ortiz, with Herminio Torres, the president of the Profit Action Group, and with the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

According to Bowman, Diageo officials felt the issue was resolved and saw no reason to go to Wednesday night's meeting.

"We didn't feel there was anything more to report," he said.

Some residents on Wednesday raised questions about whether the odor could create health issues.

Plaskett told residents at Wednesday's meeting that the Health Department would investigate the matter.

Bowman said that there is nothing harmful in the vapors.

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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