ELGIN, Texas (KXAN) — One woman said the smell is so bad, it’s kept her from inviting people to her home. It’s an odor, she said, that travels miles into The Arbors at Dogwood Creek subdivision in Elgin.
Neighbors said it’s coming from the Darling Ingredients plant in Bastrop on FM 2336, not far from Highway 95. Those around it said it’s been happening for years.
Matthew Novelli, who lives in The Arbors, said he loves to go out on a run while pushing his 16-month-old son, Matthew Jr., in his stroller but knows at any moment he could catch a rancid whiff of what’s wafting over.
“It’s gross,” said Novelli. “It smells like dead animal.”
Novelli and other neighbors KXAN spoke to believe the odor is coming from the Darling Ingredients, or Dar Pro Solutions, plant about six miles south in Bastrop.
A spokesperson for the plant wrote in a statement to KXAN the facility repurposes chicken slaughter by-products into ingredients to be used for making animal feed and pet food and also processes used cooking oil for diesel production.
People at The Arbors describe the smell as burning chicken feathers or as one neighbor put it, “just not normal.”
None of that slows Novelli down, who said he’s not that bothered by the odor.
“If it’s a skunk, you smell a skunk for a minute, and it sucks and then you keep going, and then it’s past it,” he said. “It’s not blinding or anything like that. It’s not overwhelming.”
But over the years, others have been bothered enough to complain to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
According to TCEQ records, complaints about the odor at the plant go back at least 20 years. Since the start of 2020, the agency has logged 47 complaints from people in surrounding communities. All were investigated, said TCEQ, but none in that time period resulted in a violation.
In a statement, a TCEQ spokesman explained the challenges for investigators, writing, “odors were not detected during many of the odor surveys.”
When odors were detected, the agency’s investigative reports stated they were “not at an intensity or frequency that would constitute a violation.”
No one from Darling Ingredients would speak to KXAN on camera, but in a statement, a spokesperson wrote, “we have a comprehensive process, protocols and environmental expectations that are part of our day to day operations.”
The spokesperson also wrote Darling Ingredients works with all the regulatory agencies to make sure the facility is in full compliance. The spokesperson added the plant has invested more than $3 million in upgrades to eliminate odors, including a device that destroys odor compounds.
Novelli thinks there may be no running away from the odor, and it could just be a fact of life in the neighborhood.
“I grew up in Galveston, and Texas City was there with the plants and people deal with that,” said Novelli.
A TCEQ spokesman said the last time Darling Ingredients was issued a violation for the smell was in 2008 for nuisance odors and a permit violation. It was resolved with the installation of new equipment.
Darling Ingredients employs nearly 80 people.