Residents of Clermont are pinching their noses and shutting all doors and windows thanks to a foul stench pervading the area, which they believe to be emanating from the composting process of a nearby farm.
“You cannot be outside, your children cannot be outside, they will run to the bus stop with their mouths covered,” Michele Rivera, a mother from Clermont, said. “They will come in and say, 'Mommy I think somebody's dog pooped in our yard,' and you think they stepped in it. And you're like wait a minute - it's the air!"
Rivera said ever since the fall for days at a time her family and the rest of the children in her neighborhood on Green Cover Blvd off U.S. 27 in Lake County could not bear to be outside. Rivera believes she's smelling human sewage from a nearby farm.
"I believe we are smelling some sort of sewage, not fertilizer," Rivera said.
The third generation owner of the Arnold Groves, John Arnold, told Local 6 that the patented process of Solorganics – composting sewer sludge into fertilizer – is safe and does not stink. He then uses the fertilizer for his 2,500 acres of orange groves.
"I'm doing the best job I can to do the right thing, and I'm providing a service to the community,” Arnold said. "Composting has been around a long time, we have a right to farm, and we have a right to produce food for people."
Arnold said there is so much sludge on the market that he has the ability to purchase only the sludge that has been properly processed and does not stink.
"Agricultural operations have the right to fertilize their property, just like a homeowner has a right to fertilize the lawn," Arnold said.
"I believe if there's an odor, it is the wrong thing. If it's affecting our quality of life, it is the wrong thing," Rivera said. She is also concerned that the sludge may be seeping into groundwater or the dust may be settling on her children's toys.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection visited the farm on Jan. 28 and noted “excessive odors” of “biosolids and livestock...downwind of the facility” according to a report.
Inspectors recommended “corrective actions through an Engineering Evaluation Report... prepared and sealed by a professional engineer” within 45 days.
Arnold said he will install a filter to purify the air released during the composting process.