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Biodiesel smell lingers in Barrio Logan

Odors are still affecting Barrio Logan residents living near a Newton Avenue biofuels plant that’s been the subject of complaints for nearly a year.

Last month, the air pollution control district approved an exhaust and filter system the company officials say will reduce the smell at their Barrio Logan biodiesel plant.

The company collects used cooking oil from local restaurants, cleans it and turns it into diesel fuel that New Leaf officials say contains 80% less carbon than petroleum-based diesel fuels.

But one byproduct of the refining process is a strong smell that wafts into nearby neighborhoods.

The company is under fire from regulators and residents to eliminate an odor that is not toxic, but pungent and almost always there.

New Leaf Biofuel picked up another violation notice on Nov. 16 because the nuisance odors persist. It is the fourth violation from the Air Pollution Control District in the past year.

Regulators say the situation isn’t improving much, but they declined resident’s requests to shut the plant down until a filter system is installed.

That filter system is designed to pump air inside the plant through an activated carbon filter. Most of the system is in place but a large fan that’ll push the air into the filter system will not arrive until the end of November.

“I compliment you on your graphs and charts and all of those things but that doesn’t change the fact that the odors still continue,” said Peter Colon, a Barrio Logan resident who lives across the street from the Newton Avenue plant.

Company officials outline the work they have been doing. That included cleaning-up spills, keeping the plant’s doors and windows closed as much as possible and using chemical sprays to control the odors.

Regulators say the effort had a minimal impact. There were a few days without the smell, but it was still there more than 70% of the time the district surveyed the neighborhood.

Regulators acknowledged that the only way to stop the odors before the filter system is running is to shut down the plant. Residents asked for that, but the idea was rejected by the panel.

New Leaf officials said they are voluntarily cutting back operations to just 12 hours a day.

The Air Pollution Control District hearing panel was to update the situation in early December, but board chair Vilmarie Rodriguez suggested waiting.

“Honestly, one week is not going to give you the data that you want to track,” Rodriguez said. “Because there may be some fine tuning on your system as well.”

The air pollution officials say New Leaf is working to correct the situation as much as they can before the new filter system is active.

Regulators are doing regular odor surveys and they say they will escalate enforcement if the situation doesn’t improve.

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