Odors & Air Quality
Everyone has a right to breathe clean, healthy air. This includes air that doesn’t smell so bad that it affects our ability to enjoy our home and property. Spokane Clean Air receives many complaints about odors coming from a variety of activities, some residential and others commercial operations. Most complaints are related to excessive smoke, dust, and odors.
Health Impacts of Odors
Odors can be a nuisance, but are they a public health hazard? Odors are a complex mixture of gases, vapors, and dust. It is possible for certain odorous emissions to have an impact on physical health while others may not. The potential impact of any odor depends upon the concentration of odorous emissions, and the frequency and duration of exposure. The most frequently reported symptoms attributed to odors include headache, nausea, hoarseness, cough, congestion, palpitations, shortness of breath, and eye, nose, and throat irritation.
Spokane Clean Air takes odor complaints seriously and follows protocols established through our air quality regulations to protect the air and public health. Per agency Regulation I, Article VI, Section 6.04:
It shall be unlawful for any person to cause or allow the emission of any air contaminant in sufficient quantities and of such characteristics and duration as is, or is likely to unreasonably interfere with enjoyment of life and property.
Response to Odor Complaints
Once a complaint is received, it is recorded into a database and then assigned to a field inspector for follow-up. Inspectors generally respond to complaints during regular business hours.
Three conditions must be met for us to consider enforcement action on an odor incident:
(1) An inspector detects an odor at an intensity level of 2 or greater using the scale below:
- Level 0 – no odor detected
- Level 1 – odor barely detected
- Level 2 – odor is distinct and definite, any unpleasant characteristics recognizable
- Level 3 – odor is objectionable enough or strong enough to cause attempts at avoidance
- Level 4 – odor is so strong that a person does not want to remain present
(2) The person(s) impacted by the odor provides an affidavit describing the impact that the smell is having on their lives. Persons providing affidavits may be required to testify at a hearing if the case is challenged.
(3) An inspector identifies the source of the odor.
Before issuing a Notice of Violation, Spokane Clean Air may give the person/company causing the odor 15 days to provide additional information. If this information demonstrates, to the satisfaction of the agency, that all controls and operating practices to prevent or minimize odors to the greatest degree practicable are being employed, then the agency may decline to pursue formal enforcement action. This does not preclude a person affected by odors to pursue their own legal action against someone causing odors.
If Spokane Clean Air determines that the person causing the odors hasn’t demonstrated that all controls and operating practices to prevent or minimize odors to the greatest degree practicable are being employed, a Notice of Violation may be issued. If the Agency issues a Notice of Violation, the person receiving the notice has 30 days to respond to the allegations made in the notice.
Once the Agency considers any additional information provided by the person cited, the Agency will generally assess a fine. In calculating the fine, the Agency will consider a variety of factors such as how long the violation occurred, the compliance record of the person receiving the violation, responsiveness in correcting the violation, and any financial gain associated with non-compliance.
Fines typically start at about $1,000 for first-time violators, but this can climb sharply if an economic benefit was gained from non-compliance. The person receiving the fine has 30 days to make payment, request mitigation, or file an appeal.
It will typically take at least three months from the time a complaint is first received until the case is resolved. In some cases where enforcement action is challenged, it may take more than 12 months to resolve.
Filing Odor/Nuisance Complaints
If you smell (or see) an air pollution problem contact Spokane Clean Air as soon as possible. Complaints can be called in to the agency at (509) 477-4727, or by using this online complaint form.
You will be asked to provide personal information, such as your name, address, and phone number. If you want to remain anonymous, do not provide personal information as once you do, it may be disclosed under the public records disclosure laws.
Your call may be answered by voicemail recording if you call during non-business hours. In addition to your name, address, and telephone number, plan on providing your location when the odor was detected and the date and time the odor was first detected.