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The Barrio Logan smell problem will linger for another six weeks

San Diego County Air Pollution officials are ordering a San Diego biofuel company to contain pungent odors that neighbors have been complaining about for nearly a year.

The county’s Air Pollution Control District (APCD) finalized and approved a negotiated abatement order that calls on the company to fix the problem by Dec. 9.

“I’m asking for a little bit of patience and a little bit of time,” said Ruth Rodriguez Figueroa, a member of the APCD hearing board.

She was speaking directly to community members who requested the factory shut down until the fix is working.

“Respectfully, I am, we are, committed to ensure that we actually come to a sustainable solution,” said Rodriguez-Figueroa

Community members indicated they have suffered enough.

Regulators have been getting complaints about the smell since last November.

“We’re disappointed, our residents have been dealing with this issue for a long, long time,” said Nicholas Paul of the Environmental Health Coalition. “There has been no reduction in odor and we are really frustrated and disappointed that we are in this wait and see approach.”

New Leaf Biofuel gathers used cooking oil from more than 2,500 local businesses, cleans the oil and distills it into diesel fuel.

That fuel contains nearly 90% less carbon and other pollutants, according to the company.

During the process of refining the oil creates a pungent smell that permeates the neighborhood around the Newton Avenue facility.

Regulators have been negotiating an odor reduction plan with the company which estimates it’ll cost about $300,000 for the filters and a specially-ordered industrial fan. The company is optimistic that gear will help get the smell under control.

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Carlos Castillo
San Diego County Air Pollution Control District headquarters, Oct. 27, 2022

“New Leaf fully supports the entry of the stipulated order of abatement,” said Jennifer Case, founder of the green energy company. “We developed this in negotiation with APCD staff over the summer to address the odor.”

But waiting another six weeks is not appealing to the people who have had to live with the smell every day.

“I live directly across from this place which puts me directly in the intensity zone,” said Peter Colon, a Barrio Logan Resident.

He said the pungent smell is present all the time around his Newton Avenue home, but it seems to get worse in the morning and evening.

“I normally do a lot of gardening in the yard,” Colon said. “But I haven’t been able to do that this year. Nor as much last year. Because the odor. When I get up in the morning, I look at my air monitor outside and it says it's polluted, every morning.”

Some residents say the smell was so strong during a two-week-long heat wave this past summer that residents were forced to stay inside apartments without air conditioning.

Regulators will meet again next month to check on the company’s progress.

The board promised to escalate enforcement actions if the December deadline for a fix is missed.

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