Woonsocket will investigate Synagro, wastewater odors

Woonsocket will investigate Synagro, wastewater odors

WOONSOCKET – How much is too much?

That was the question raised on Monday when the City Council voted to seek out an environmental consultant to investigate the smells emanating from the solid waste processing plant and wastewater treatment facility on Cumberland Hill Road. The vote came after several months of discussion by councilors over how to address the odors that have been a source of complaints by city residents for decades.

Councilor Jon Brien, who sponsored the resolution, told The Breeze the vote is an attempt at an honest conversation over how to address a quality of life issue for the city. Synagro, he noted, has operated a solid waste processing plant on Cumberland Hill Road since 1988, and odors in the area of the facility have been a concern for residents for much of that time.

“I think it’s important not only as a quality of life issue, but also as an attitude issue. We import solid waste from all around New England and we’re trying to change the city’s image,” he said.

Synagro, a Maryland-based company, imports solid waste in sludge and cake form from several New England states for processing at the Cumberland Hill Road plant. While many residents are familiar with the name Synagro, fewer, said Brien, realize the smells actually come from two separate facilities on adjacent parcels along the Blackstone River. The second facility, a wastewater treatment plant that serves Woonsocket, Blackstone, North Smithfield and Bellingham, Mass., is operated by CH2M Hill, which was purchased by the multinational Jacobs Engineering Group in 2017.

That facility, said Brien, currently has two open main tanks used for wastewater treatment. Early discussions on the possibility of capping the tanks to prevent odors from escaping have estimated the cost at about $3 million, though an exact cost is unknown.

In the case of the Synagro plant, the city has fewer options. According to Brien, the city is currently in the midst of a multi-decade contract with Synagro that expires in 2037. The agreement is worth $68 million in revenue and cost savings for the city and would be impossible to exit without a costly legal battle. However, Brien suggested it may be possible to negotiate further measures to reduce the impact of odors on surrounding residents.

“I think there are efforts that Synagro can take to minimize what happens there,” he said. “The question is, how much better, and at what cost?”

The two facilities currently operate an “odor hotline” and submit monthly odor complaint reports to the City Council. The most recent odor complaint report, from October, shows two complaints submitted by residents early in the month. In both cases, the report indicates that one or both companies checked their equipment after receiving the complaint and determined there were no unusual odors at the facilities.

Brien said he believes the number of complaints submitted corresponds with residents’ awareness of the issue. He also pointed out the city’s efforts to expand athletic fields at nearby Cass Park and added the smells could become an obstacle in making Woonsocket a desirable destination for residents of other communities.


This is what happens when you park a sewer treatment plant in the middle of a residential area . What to you expect to smell ? Roses ? It's life move on !