Lawsuit: Jacksonville perfume plant doesn’t pass the sniff test

Murray Hill neighbors file class action lawsuit against International Flavors and Fragrances; plant says they’re not responsible

Neighbors in Murray Hill filed a law suit earlier this month against International Flavors and Fragrances on lane Avenue. The lawsuit says that the strong odors coming from the facility into the air is impacting their quality of life.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville manufacturer that produces flavors, fragrances, and cosmetic actives is at the center of a new class-action lawsuit.

Residents who live near the International Flavors and Fragrances, IFF, say they are fed up with a stinking smell that they say has been coming from the factory for years.

Imagine the smell of Pine-Sol, but magnified. That’s how some neighbors have described what they’re smelling day in, day out in Murray Hill. A woman named Erin spoke to News4Jax but declined to give her last name. She says she first noticed the smell 3 years ago.

“It drifts into our house in the middle of the night. It wakes me up,” Erin said.

Erin has filed multiple complaints with the city’s Environmental Quality Division over the last few months. She says when it’s especially bad, she’ll file multiple in a week.

“We have two small children, sometimes we can’t go outside in the morning,” Erin said. “The past 6 months or so, it’s been very strong. To where it’s daily.”

Erin isn’t the only one filing complaints.

The city of Jacksonville told News4jax, in a public records request, that from October 1, 2020, through December 28, 2020, 567 citywide odor complaints were reported.

A city official said most were from the Murray Hill, Avondale, and Riverside areas with 7 of those complaints being verified and validated, with the source being identified as International Flavors and Fragrances on Lane Avenue.

In another public records request, the city confirmed 201 complaints were received from December 28th through January 13th, with one additional verified odor complaint still being reviewed for validation.

Neighbors say the smell drifts miles away and greets them at their front door. Fed up with the stench, three Murray Hill neighbors filed a class-action lawsuit against IFF earlier this month. It was originally stricken by a judge, but then refiled Friday, January 15th. According to the lawsuit, IFF uses a process that involves distilling “crude sulfate turpentine” which is used to make fragrance.

Josh Gellers is a board member for the Murray Hill Preservation Association and says the smell has made its way to his home.

“My wife was woken up by it at about 2:00 in the morning,” Gellers said. “Which caused her to run to the bathroom because she had nausea, her face felt like it was on fire.”

Gellers has seen the complaints from neighbors, with some saying their health is being impacted.

“Burning sensations, shortness of breath dizziness, nausea, headaches,” Gellers said. “All of that seems to be pretty consistent across members of the community who have made complaints.”

News4jax reached out to IFF for comment. The representative pointed News4jax to a letter addressed to the Environmental Quality Division with the city. The letter says: “IFF’s sensor technology and evaluations cannot find a connection between the Murray Hill complaints and the facility.”

The letter says the facility is roughly 3 miles from Murray Hill, therefore, it is “highly improbable” IFF could be responsible. The letter went on to say:

“IFF has engaged environmental experts to conduct an independent review and full evaluation of the odor complaints and IFF’s facilities. We have concluded that IFF’s operations are in full compliance with the Title V air permit issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and could not be responsible for the odor complaints in the Murray Hill neighborhood.”

It also asked the city to “provide the training records for the City’s odor investigators.”

For Gellers, that request was a head-scratcher.

“It’s very strongly suggested that what they’re attempting to get at is that the people who are doing the investigating are not qualified or trained properly to do so,” Gellers said. “That’s different than saying we’re not responsible for the chemical smell.”

The class-action lawsuit is now making its way through the courts. No matter what comes of it, Gellers says neighbors are just ready to move on.

“The sense of the community is that this is something they don’t want to live with,” Gellers said. “And they shouldn’t have to live with it.”

Erin agrees.

“What I would like to see is, I don’t know... it to be done,” Erin said. “I don’t want to smell it anymore. I can’t move, but IFF can.”

In the letter, IFF also neighbors’ concerns directly.

“IFF is working hard to make this right, not just because of the enforcement action, but because IFF cares deeply about the community. IFF supports members of the community who report complaints so that the origin of the complaints may be accurately identified.”

The city of Jacksonville also told News4jax people are still encouraged to file odor complaints directly to the Environment Quality Division.

About the Author:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.