October 27, 2021

IDEM plans to address pollution, odor at waste oil recycling plant in Indianapolis

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management said proposed changes at the Metalworking Lubricants Co. may reduce pollution. But residents are skeptical anything will change. - Rebecca Thiele/IPB News

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management said proposed changes at the Metalworking Lubricants Co. may reduce pollution. But residents are skeptical anything will change.

Rebecca Thiele/IPB News

For more than two decades, residents near a waste oil recycling and wastewater treatment facility in Indianapolis have had issues with frequent headaches, hives, irritated lungs and odor.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management said proposed changes at the Metalworking Lubricants Co. may reduce pollution. But residents are skeptical anything will change.

Metalworking Lubricants has had several violations in recent years. Five of the company’s operating tanks are releasing pollution directly into the air. Jenny Acker is with IDEM's Office of Air Quality. She said the agency has proposed running them through the facility’s scrubber — which should remove some of the pollution.

“And the scrubber should provide some odor control," Acker said.

Jed Fuller lives near the plant and works for a neighborhood ministry called IMPACT Old Southside. He said many of the lower-income families he serves don’t speak out as often about the pollution that affects their everyday lives.

“They don’t trust the institutions that are in place to actually do something for them because so oftentimes they have not been treated well by those institutions," Fuller said.

Odor from the plant can smell like a natural gas leak — which has led to false reports and concerns that residents used to the smell might not recognize a real one.

An Indianapolis Star investigation found the city of Indianapolis signed an agreement with the company to stop operating during Super Bowl XLVI — likely to lessen the smell for visitors.

The old southside neighborhood has been getting more attention in recent years. It's received about $4 million in Lift Indy revitalization grant funding from the city of Indianapolis. Karen Young has owned real estate in the neighborhood for more than 15 years. 

"So there's all this attention to bring people and money to this area, but I'm not seeing the attention placed on 'come live here,'" she said. 

Young said when the pandemic lockdown happened, kids couldn't even go outside because of the poor air quality. 

The public has until Nov. 1 to comment on the proposed changes to Metalworking Lubricants' permit.

This story has been updated.

Contact reporter Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.

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