City working to sniff out source of ‘sickly sweet’ stench in Murray Hill

Many residents blame a nearby perfume factory, but the factory denies being the cause

The city of Jacksonville is investigating a “chemical-like” pungent odor in the Murray Hill area after dozens of complaints have poured in.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city of Jacksonville is investigating a “chemical-like” pungent odor in the Murray Hill area after dozens of complaints have poured in.

Some neighbors say the smell is so strong it makes them sick and that they can’t go outside for hours.

“We have a lot of unhappy constituents in Murray Hill in relation to the smell,” said City Council member Randy DeFoor, who represents District 14, which includes Murray Hill.

Neighbors describe the smell as a sickly sweet, turpentine smell that makes them queasy and typically lasts around three hours.

“Take it seriously,” resident Shane said during a virtual town hall Thursday night. “I don’t know what it’s doing to me, but I’m not just going to sit by and let it happen.”

The city has gotten complaints about the odor for years, but Melissa Long, the chief of the city’s environmental quality division, said something must have changed because residents say the smell has gotten stronger.

“We’ve had trickles of complaints over the last, I don’t know, for five years here and there, not really that many, but this is really concentrated -- so something else appears to have changed,” Long said. “We want to try to get to the bottom of it.”

The city said it has received 38 complaints about the odor, but said some of those are repeated complaints from the same residents. They said the complaints began to increase in mid-September.

Neighbors think the odor is coming from the International Flavors and Fragrances facility on Lane Avenue miles away from the heart of Murray Hill.

Long said during the town hall that the factory has been on residents' radars for years as the source of the smell, but IFF has denied that it’s the cause of the odor.

According to its website, IFF is a global fragrance company that uses “by-products from the paper-making process to make ingredients” in fragrances, personal, and home products.

A spokesperson for IFF released this statement:

As a member of the community, IFF fully understands and respects the concerns of our neighbors. We are aware of the recent inquiries from the Murray Hill area. We are working with city officials to assist them in their investigation of the situation as there has been no definitive source identified at this time. We will continue to work with local authorities as they evaluate potential causes in the area. We encourage all members of the community to follow the guidance of local city officials.

DeFoor assured residents during Thursday’s town hall that she’s working to get to the bottom of the smell.

According to the city, there must be five verified and validated complaints from separate households within 90 days for corrective action to be taken.

Inspectors have to validate the complaints by visiting the area and actually smelling it for themselves, but Long told DeFoor that after previous complaints, by the time inspectors got out there, the smell was gone and her department couldn’t officially verify where it might be coming from.

“This is the problem I’m seeing. It’s kind of like the chicken and the egg. They’re going to complain, you can’t get out there, and then it’s not going to be verified. And that just isn’t acceptable,” DeFoor said. “I mean, this has been going, I understand, but we need to fix it.”

The city confirmed that inspectors who went out Friday morning were able to detect the odor and said they will continue to investigate “in accordance with the Environmental Protection Board rules and ordinance.”

In the meantime, the city is urging residents to keep filing complaints. To do that, you can go to the Environmental Quality - Odor page of the MyJax website, fill in your address and then list the complaint.

About the Authors:

Multi-media journalist

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.