Alex Roslin, special to The Record
Quebec’s environment ministry made a surprise inspection at Les Emballages Knowlton in September after a complaint about odours outside its plant in Knowlton.
LEK promises to make changes if a problem is found. “If they find anything that needs action, we’ll take immediate action,” said Mario Allaire, LEK’s vice-president and general manager.
A soap-like aroma can be smelled on some days near the plant and across much of the downtown part of the village. Some residents say they occasionally smell the odours several hundred metres away from the plant.
LEK makes antiperspirants, deodorants, air fresheners, liquid soaps and moisturizing lotions. It employs 900 people and counts several Fortune 500 companies among its clients.
A provincial environment official didn’t return calls asking about the results of the inspection.
Knowlton residents have mixed reactions to the odour. “It doesn’t bother me,” said Rick Foster, who lives about 300 metres to the southwest of the plant. “LEK makes this town work.”
“It’s lovely. I enjoy it,” said Diane Purdon, who also lives about 300 metres southwest. “It’s always a nice odour.”
Margo Pfeiff, who lives about 500 metres north of the plant, disagrees. “The smell makes me nauseous, and if the wind is blowing in the direction of my house, I have to close the windows because it gives me a headache. Sometimes, when it’s strong, it wakes me up in the night.”
Pfeiff said she smells the odour almost every time she is downtown and four or five times a month at her house.
“They [the odours] don’t belong in a small country town that is supposed to be one of the Most Beautiful Villages in Quebec,” she said.
Another woman who lives about 300 metres from the plant is also concerned about the odours. “I do smell it quite often,” she said. “You’re wondering what it’s doing to the air. It does concern me a bit.”
Allaire said he himself sometimes smells the odours downtown, but he said there is no reason for health worries. “I am confident in saying the emissions pose no risk to health,” he said.
He said he would like more information on Pfeiff’s reactions. “Obviously a strong smell can pose a problem to some people. If there is an issue with odour with this facility, we’ll definitely work to solve it,” he said.
Allaire said he isn’t sure which product may be causing the odours, but he said they probably come from fragrance used in products made at the plant.
He said he mentioned the provincial inspection to Lac Brome mayor Gilles Decelles in late October. He said he offered to create a joint committee with concerned citizens and to invite committee members to tour the plant.
“We want to be very transparent. We’ve always been a good citizen. I don’t want people to be concerned,” he said. “We’ve got nothing to hide.”
Rick Smith, executive director of the group Environmental Defence, said some ingredients commonly used in fragrances in personal care and cosmetics products may pose health risks.
Smith’s group and the U.S.-based Environmental Working Group last year put out a report titled ‘Not so Sexy: The Health Risks of Secret Chemicals in Fragrance’, calling on the Canadian and U.S. governments to test fragrance ingredients for health impacts, ban any that are found to be unsafe and require manufacturers to disclose ingredients on product labels.
The report advises consumers to opt for fragrance-free products because of possible health risks linked with certain fragrance ingredients in some products.
Health Canada is presently studying some fragrance ingredients used in personal care products and cosmetics.
“Even if the odour doesn’t contain… chemicals that pose health concerns, the company should restrict its odour emissions,” Smith said. “It’s very common in workplaces for there to be no-scent policies, the reason being that some people react very strongly to scents and may have reactions like headaches.”
Allaire said his plant doesn’t make the fragrances itself and that he doesn’t know what ingredients are present in them. He said he believes his customers have removed ingredients that have raised possible health concerns.
In a separate case, the province’s workplace health and safety commission cited the LEK plant with four health and safety contraventions in October related to inadequate ventilation of odours and storage of chemicals in a lab inside the plant and inadequate site inspection by the employer.
Allaire said the issues aren’t related to the odours outside the plant and that LEK is now making changes to address the problems.