Residents hope to cut cheese plant odour permeating Winchester

A bird's eye view of the Parmalat plant in Winchester, as seen from a rooftop near the corner of St. Lawrence and Main in the village. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

WINCHESTER — Residents of Winchester hoping to quell the odour produced by their local cheese factory will meet with Parmalat officials later today.

Reacting to heightened public criticism of the stink emanating from its cheese production process this summer, Parmalat management has called the public meeting for 6:30 p.m. this evening (July 5) at the Joel Steele Community Centre.

Residents closer to the plant, which towers over Winchester’s downtown core, have also complained of dust and increased truck traffic after the company’s major expansion last year.

North Dundas Mayor Eric Duncan had an early meeting with company officials yesterday. He describes tonight’s planned session as “a step in the right direction.”

“They’ve had a culture of being fearful to share information but they are actually doing things that I think would appease the public,” says Duncan, attending yesterday evening’s Meet Me On Main Street event in Morewood. “I hope this is the first of many meetings with neighbours and the public to say what’s going on.”

“I hope it’s civil,” he emphasizes. “We don’t need to scream and yell and insult each other.”

The mayor concedes that some solutions to the issues will take “time and money,” including a planned new roadway to divert incoming and outgoing milk-truck traffic north of the village — instead of going through town and residential Gladstone Street. In the meantime, he says that trucks are already supposed to be using Parmalat’s private back lane after a certain hour but some drivers are ignoring this policy. The township is looking at ticketing them to ensure compliance, he says.

Duncan says there are two main issues: The broader problem of odour emanating from Parmalat’s private lagoon northeast of the village, and truck and dust problems for those living in the plant’s immediate vicinity.

A resident of Winchester, Duncan says he’s personally quite familiar with the smell that has enveloped the village, noting the odour has been bad lately even out at the St. Lawrence St.  municipal office — a few kilometres away from the Parmalat lagoon.

Another resident of the village describes the “dust” as a “cheese mist,” where she lives near the Parmalat chimney stacks. She provided a link to a YouTube video (below) appearing to show dairy product snowing on downtown Winchester in October last year. “It’s a fine mist and it covers everything with an oily yellow residue;  you can feel it on your skin when it’s falling.”

Nation Valley News has forwarded some questions to Parmalat about the Winchester odour issue. The answers will be posted here when they come in. NVN may pose the questions tonight as well, if unanswered by then. See below.

The impact of American milk imports

1) What percentage of the Winchester Parmalat plant’s capacity is dedicated to processing American milk into American cheese (or other dairy products) for the American market exclusively, under Canada’s import-for-export program? (The program allows Canadian-based processors to import U.S. milk tariff-free so long as the resulting final product all goes back to the U.S. In essence, the Winchester plant is competing with U.S. milk-processing facilities to some degree and is using some percentage of its processing capacity to be a player in that market — but solid numbers and percentages are hard to come by.) 

2) How many jobs in Winchester rest on being able to make products for the U.S. consumer from U.S. milk? 

3) How much waste is being left behind in Winchester because of Parmalat’s participation in the American processing marketplace?

If money were no object …

4) In theory, if money were no object, would it be possible to operate a cheese plant of Winchester Parmalat’s size without open-air lagoons, and are there any examples of this anywhere in Parmalat’s fleet around the world (or maybe even among Parmalat’s competitors)? 

5) For example, wouldn’t it be theoretically possible for a modern, multi-million-dollar wastewater treatment facility — capable of both primary and secondary treatment — to take the wastewater from Parmalat (and Winchester residents, for that matter) and send purified water back to the Nation River in a continuous stream, rather than leaving the waste to sit, stew, stink and settle in those lagoons?

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