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Odor Concerns Follow Milwaukee Wastewater Treatment Company

A cloud seems to be following a company that treats industrial wastewater. Advanced Waste Services wants to relocate from Milwaukee to Menomonee Falls, but is facing opposition.

The company's Milwaukee neighbors have complained about the odor the plant emits, and residents in Menomonee Falls are concerned about what could happen to their air quality.

Huge tank trucks holding up to 5,000 gallons of mucky water from manufacturers, ranging from automobile to personal care products, come and go from the Advanced Waste Services plant. AWS removes the contaminants and then discharges the water into the Milwaukee Metro sewage system.

“We precipitate metals, eliminate FOGs – that’s fats, oils and greases – that’s something that we’re regulated on by MMSD; if we were to discharge high levels of FOGS, along with the metals, it’s very harmful for MMSD’s facility. So, we’re pre-treatment for that,” the company's operations manager Andrew Acklam says.

There’s no denying a distinct smell. Acklam defines it as industrial.

The company’s homemade solution is a biofilter that the staff designed and installed 15 months ago.

Credit Advanced Waste Services

“There’s some mulch, just like you use in your garden, so that’s what’s actually scrubbing this air. There’s some other things in there – there’s some spent mushroom in there,” Acklam says. Blowers pull air from each holding tank and push it through a duct system. It deposits the air beneath the living filter.

“They will eat up all that odorous air and you’d be able to smell, there’s literally air floating out of there,” Acklam says.

Acklam’s satisfaction with the “odor filtering” system isn’t shared by Jesse Metzger. He owns a nearby café – Birdie’s on West Martin Drive.

“It’s been pretty bad; it was usually during the summer and smelled pretty much like sewage. It filled the whole neighborhood,” Metzger says.

Metzger says the foulness did more than affect his summer terrace clientele. “We like to leave our windows open in the summer and you get people coming in here asking if it was something that we have wrong with our building, and that’s no good,” Metzger says.

Metzger says he didn’t feel compelled to complain, because plenty of other neighbors did.

Last summer, Milwaukee’s Department of Neighborhood Services ordered AWS to better control its odors.

The company hired a consultant, but later settled on moving to Menomonee Falls. Operations Manager Andrew Aacklam says the Falls’ site is the right fit – 21 acres of space zoned for heavy industry. In Milwaukee, AWS is sandwiched into a residential neighborhood. Acklam says the village also has a more modern sewer system, than Milwaukee’s.

“There’s not sufficient traps on the sewer system, there’s open grates. The sewer’s job is to hold in these odorous gases and the smell of the waste water going by, so these old outdated sewer systems have been a challenge for us,” Acklam says.

But AWS is carrying more baggage than its disgruntled Milwaukee neighbors. In recent years, the sewerage district has leveled two-dozen discharge violations against the company, for allowing excessive amounts of pollutants into the system, including metals and grease. AWS paid more than $11,000 in fines.

As for its desired move to Menomonee Falls, the attorney’s office there says it is assessing the company’s ability to avoid “objectionable nuisances.”

More than 300 residents showed up at a village board meeting last week, with concerns about air quality.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.