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Fairfield Beach residents face months-long battle with unordinary rotten smell from waste facility

Fairfield Wastewater Treatment Facility
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
An aerial view of the Fairfield Beach area of Fairfield, Connecticut. The wastewater treatment facility (bottom right) has been emitting a strong odor since April when a digester broke after a buildup of pressure. The town hopes to have the part repaired by the spring of 2023.

Fairfield leaders tell our Accountability Project that the smell is due to a broken part they plan to fix by spring 2023.

Since a part broke at the water pollution control facility in Fairfield Beach, residents have been hit in the face with a rotten smell on a daily basis.

The facility treats and composts sewage, and the broken part is called a primary digester. The digester breaks down the sewage and reduces the odor. It broke in April, and residents say the effects are evident.

John Anthony, who has lived in Fairfield Beach for about eight years, said he started to notice the awful smell on his daily walks. He says it’s noticeable from several points along his path, and it’s the kind of smell that can ruin your morning.

“It smells like if you ever lit a match and blew out a match and you get that sulfur smell, and then just take a really bad rotten egg and mix it in with that sulfur,” Anthony said.

He’s not the only one in his neighborhood dealing with this. Several neighbors, including Stephanie Swann, say the smell is so horrible that they have to cover their faces and run inside. Swann called the smell disgusting and gag-worthy.

“The smell started, I want to say earlier this year, definitely at least in the spring. I only noticed it because I walk the dog every morning,” Swann said.

Fairfield Wastewater Treatment Facility
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
A view of the wastewater treatment tanks at the facility on Richard White Way in Fairfield, Conn. The primary digester, as seen in the distance, broke in April.

The superintendent of the facility, John Bodie, says the digester was damaged when pressure built up inside the tank and broke the top of it. He says a new gauge will be added to prevent this from happening again.

When The Accountability Project asked Bodie if the town could have done a better job monitoring this, he answered not really.

“The tank is sealed, there’s no way to see in it. Even if you were to open the cover-up on the hatchway and look in there, all you’re going to see is liquid sludge. You’re not going to see anything as far as piping or anything,” Bodie said.

The town aims to have the part repaired by the spring of 2023, which should get the smell under control. Meanwhile, many residents are wondering what is taking so long.

Bodie said the town initially received one bid to make the repairs for $2.7 million, but it was rejected for two reasons: It was too expensive, and the town prefers to have more than one bid to choose from. They decided to clean the digester first and then try the bidding process a second time.

“We had the money in the WPCA (Water Pollution Control Authority) fund balance, it was just getting the best price for the work that needed to be done,” Bodie said. “And by cleaning it first, we were able to see in there and we were able to know what needs to be fixed.”

Since the problem started, the town has tried using a few chemicals to reduce the odor. One of the first chemicals that officials mixed in with the sewage had the opposite effect, Anthony said from his backyard.

“That’s where they’re doing their mixology or whatever they do, which is adding some sort of chemical, which is making it worse. But that’s the problem right there,” Anthony said.

After that, Bodie said they added in another chemical that didn’t do much of anything. Now they’re trying a new one that’s sprayed into the air.

Residents are worried that the bad smell could point to a larger issue, like air pollution. This led the Fairfield Health Department to conduct air quality testing of the facility and the surrounding area. Results show there’s no reason for concern.

This was also confirmed by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which inspected the facility last month. They were more worried about groundwater contamination, but Nisha Patel, director of DEEP’s Water Planning and Management Division, said the samples show the water is safe.

“Based on what we understand and what the town has provided in terms of some sampling data, of the biosolids that are stored on the actual wastewater treatment facility site, we have no indications that there is a significant pollution risk,” Patel said.

While Swann and Anthony are relieved there’s no health risk, they’re still waiting for the day they can enjoy their walks again without facing the rotten smell.

Fairfield Beach Neighborhood odor
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
Houses in an area surrounding a pollution control facility near Fairfield Beach in December 2022. A strong odor has been coming from a nearby wastewater treatment facility after a digester tank broke in April. The town hopes to have it repaired by the spring of 2023.

Bria Lloyd is an investigative reporter with The Accountability Project

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