Stricter rules for compost facility's 'putrid' odour in Richmond, B.C., start Jan. 1

Residents have been complaining for years about the bad smell coming from a compost facility in Richmond, B.C.

'On a bad day, it's putrid. It's hard to take a deep breath,' says local resident

A compost facility in Richmond known for its pungent smell will see tighter restrictions come into place on Jan. 1. (CBC)

A controversial composting facility in Richmond, B.C., will have to abide by stricter regulations regarding the smells it produces starting Jan. 1.

Over the last few years, Harvest Power, which turns organic waste into compost and mulch, has been the subject of thousands of complaints from residents regarding air pollution and odour.

"On a bad day, it's putrid. It's hard to take a deep breath. We like to stay active and stay out on nice days, but it's hard to breathe," said Richmond resident James Jesney.

Richmond residents have filed thousands of complaints over the last few years, but Metro Vancouver says the number of complaints has dropped dramatically in 2017. (Stop the Stink in Richmond/Facebook)

'Sniff test' used to monitor violations

The facility, located at 7028 York Road in Richmond, has been allowed to have malodour spread beyond a five kilometre radius for up to five days over two weeks.

But as of Jan. 1, the facility will be required to shut down if there are complaints of bad smells more than four kilometres from the facility for more than three days over the same amount of time.

Next year the radius shrinks to three kilometres and the allowable frequency to two days.

The issue reached a fever pitch in September 2016 when Metro Vancouver renewed the permit for the organic waste composting facility for three years.

The move was met with backlash from the community — 2,402 complaints came in between September and December.

However, that permit — which comes attached to 46 pages of regulations — is what allows Metro Vancouver to impose new regulations, according to Ray Robb, manager of the environmental regulation and enforcement division at Metro Vancouver.

"The question is did we impose enough requirements. Did we require that they improve at a sufficient pace?" Robb said. 

'Did we impose enough?'

Residents have started a petition and an online group to encourage one another to file complaints.

Robb said he is aware of the group and encourages those concerned to continue their course of action.

"Certainly with Harvest, we've seen an incredible number of complaints, far more than all other sources combined," he said.

"It's not a Facebook group that is causing this phenomenon in terms of the number of complaints."

The issue will be before the Environmental Appeal Board in September, when a ruling will be made on the legitimacy of the current permit.

Metro Vancouver and the facility both outlined a number of steps that have been taken to reduce the offensive odour, but residents say the stink is still unbearable.

For its part, Harvest said it no longer accepts pure food waste and has cut back on the overall volume it is processing.

Metro Vancouver said it monitors the smell as complaints come in.

"Those are things that will be heard by the Environmental Appeal Board in September of 2018," Robb said.

With files from Jesse Johnston