Foul odor blankets Victoria; chicken manure cited as source

  • HEALTH RISK?

    Commissioner Wayne Dierlam received odor complaints during the weekend and passed them on to the county health department.

    According to the health department, the odor does not pose a health risk, Dierlam said.

Ryan Naquin closed the door to his car and stepped toward a North Navarro Street store on Monday.

He stopped, breathed in the morning air and thought at once he'd stepped in something.

"The smell was so overwhelming that I looked at the bottom of my shoes," Naquin, a 29-year-old Victoria man, said. "I went to different stores, and the smell just seemed to follow me."

If you stepped outside or cracked a window Monday, you likely were hit with an unexpected odor, too. Residents described the stench as anything from dog feces to a cat litter box and stink bait.

While some debate the direction from which the odor blanketed the city, most agree on one thing. The unsettling scent stemmed from a farmer or rancher who fertilized fields with chicken manure.

"We don't investigate it unless people are becoming sick because of it, but we're pretty sure that's what it is," said Adam Luther, a Victoria Fire Department investigator.

The stench began on Inez pasture lands, Luther said.

Eileen Bullock, who works at an Inez farm and ranch store, visited Victoria early Monday morning. She, too, noticed the odor.

"I thought maybe it was something on the tires on my car," Bullock said. When she returned to Inez, the odor disappeared, she said.

Weather reports seem to support her experience. From 8 to 10 a.m., winds pushed east from Inez and into Victoria, said Roger Gass, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

From 10 a.m. to noon, winds blew in from the northeast at 13 miles an hour. Joe Janak, a Victoria County extension agent, said he believes the odor emanates from pasture land northeast of Victoria.

"It was a rancher using poultry litter as an organic means to fertilize. There's really nothing wrong with that," Janak said. "It's part of nature, part of how chicken manure smells."

For years, farmers and ranchers used chemical sprays to fertilize their fields and to yield corn, sorghum and livestock grass. As fuel prices increased and drought strained profit margins, agriculturists looked for cheaper ways to fertilize, Janak said.

"A few years ago, fertilizer prices doubled and tripled and local farmers threw their hands up. They didn't know what to do," Janak said. "After the drought, they're now considering organic fertilizers. Chicken manure is an approved practice."

Residents noticed the odor recently because farmers and ranchers waited during an extended wet season to finally fertilize now.

As a result, the Victoria Police and Fire Department communications center received several calls from residents concerned about the odor, said Police Det. Thomas Eisman.

"One caller requested an ambulance for her and her children related to the unpleasant smell," Eisman said. "Though unpleasant, we do not believe the odor to be hazardous to the general public. Anyone with chronic breathing difficulties may want to consider remaining indoors until the odor subsides."

Janak, meanwhile, reminds residents that if farmers and ranchers don't use manure as fertilizer, it is otherwise wasted.

"People are so far removed from agriculture they don't understand the everyday life," he said. "Using manure is part of everyday life."