Neighbors living in the working class neighborhoods south of Lucas Oil Stadium have long complained about the smell of "rotten eggs, sulfur and natural gas" emanating from Metalworking Lubricants Co. better known as "the Southside stench." Officials of the company deny they are the source of the odors, and government officials tell complaining neighbors there is nothing they can do to regulate smells. This is Indianapolis so the story naturally doesn't end there. Officials reached a deal with the company to close down the entire week of the Super Bowl to ensure there were no smelly problems during the Big Event.
. . . But those regulators knew where to turn when they wanted to put an abrupt end to the smell in 2012. With Super Bowl XLVI only a week away, an Indianapolis Star investigation recently discovered, city and state officials quietly signed an agreement to suspend operations at Metalworking Lubricants for seven days in the lead up to and during the nationally televised NFL festivities.
Some activists and residents say the Super Bowl deal raises questions about what the city and state promised the company in order to persuade it to shut down. Were favors offered, some ask, in exchange for ensuring a stink-free event at Indy's nearby Lucas Oil Stadium?
City and state officials insist no favors were extended. But to residents — who had complained about the odor for years — the Super Bowl deal stings in other ways.
"It strikes me as unfair and unfortunate that we can provide clean air and non-smelly air for visitors who come for the Super Bowl," said Southside resident Jim Simmons, "but not for our citizens who are in the path of this odor every day." . . .Metalworking Lubricants, which recycles dirty oil and makes cleaners, employs about 50 people at its plant on the Southside. State environmental regulators recently conducted an air quality permit hearing for the company that drew a large number of residents from the affected area according to the Star. City officials who have long known the company was the source of the odors acknowledge city officials frequently respond to false reports of natural gas leaks because of the problem that tie up city resources.
Federal EPA didn't take steps to take an enforcement action against the company until 2013, and state IDEM officials are now considering a different air quality permit that would require the company to invest in equipment intended to mitigate against the odors, although the state agency has never cited the company for any violations despite the numerous complaints against it. IDEM blames city officials for creating such a weak air permit for the company, which IDEM claims ties its hands. IDEM says city officials could pursue a nuisance action against the company, which it does to poor working class people all the time for the most minor of violations at residential properties by hauling them into court and slapping them with large fines it imposes as a lien on their property if they don't pay up. City prosecutor Samantha DeWester told the Star the city lacks any empirical data to take action against the company."Unless there's some empirical data or something to show that there's pollution," she said, "we can't just say 'Well, it smells so therefore it must be a violation.'"
The Star says the company's president signed a "voluntary agreement" with former Code Enforcement Director Rick Powers and state IDEM Commissioner Tom Easterly on January 23, 2012 under which the company agreed to shut down its operations from January 30 to February 6. None of the parties to the agreement would speak to the Star about the agreement. The agreement recognized that Metalworking Lubricants would suffer economic losses, and that "the city will attempt to assist Metalworking in recovering its losses." A spokesman for Mayor Ballard's office denies the city paid anything to the company to shut down, but it insists at the same time it lived up to its end of the agreement.
Nuvo had a story about the odor problems associated with the company back in 2013. That story mentions a 25,000 gallon oil spill the company experienced back in 2010, which required the disposal of 850 tons of polluted soil. Incredibly, IDEM claimed no toxic materials were released into the city's sewer system or nearby waterways. Apparently, the company only received a $30,000 fine associated with that spill. Perhaps a lesser fine was part of the deal. A separate Star story mentions a letter the company's president sent to IDEM last August referencing the deal. "On this you have our word and a handshake," Kainz wrote. "Just as we stopped operation for the Super Bowl based on our word and handshake." If officials held in abatement civil penalties it would normally take against a company in exchange for its agreement to ensure a stink-free Super Bowl, then that it is a really smelly story worthy of further investigation.