Residents raise a stink over Fresno business

FRESNO, Calif.

The Darling International plant is located at Belgravia and Teilman in Southwest Fresno -- right near a couple neighborhoods and a city park. Residents say they're fed up with the smell of dead animals coming from the rendering plant. But Darling International executives say they have every right to keep the business exactly where it's been for the last six decades.

It may look like a perfect day to go for a stroll through Hyde Park in Southwest Fresno. But lurking just on the other side of the park is something that keeps many people indoors.

"When I come home and drive by there, it just makes you sick," said Mary Curry, a neighbor who also leads the Concerned Citizens of West Fresno. "It gets in your clothing. It gets in your nostrils."

Curry is fed up with her neighbor, Darling International. The rendering plant processes up to 850,000 pounds of animal parts every day -- breaking them down into useable items, like oils for soaps and protein meal for pet food. But living near the plant has turned many neighbors into amateur meteorologists -- monitoring this wind sock to know what might be blowing their way.

"For 20 years, my family endured unbearable odors, swarming flies, gathering of stray dogs," said Pastor Booker T. Lewis of the Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church.

Two neighborhoods, and Hyde Park, sit less than a half-mile from the plant. Residents say they smell it at least two or three times a month. And the stench has been known to drift a full two miles away to Edison High School where students struggle to stay focused.

"It's disruptive to our learning environment," said Edison senior Arogeanae Brown. "The smell distracts students in our classrooms."

But Darling International executives say they've made $10 million worth of improvements to satisfy neighbors' concerns, including state-of-the-art odor-eliminating equipment. They say residents may actually be smelling the adjacent Foster Farms plant. In fact, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District says the facility hasn't had any air quality violations in the last two years. But neighbors are still complaining.

"Now they may have cleaned it up a little bit, I'm not going to doubt that, but it still stinks," said Curry.

Darling International says moving the plant would cost about $40 million. Closing it could cost as many as 4,000 jobs.

The residents' lawsuit also targets the city of Fresno. It claims the city has a legal obligation to make sure all its citizens have a healthy place to live, even if they're poor.

Council member Oliver Baines has been trying to mediate an agreement. He says the lawsuit is premature.

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