Maricopa County Air Quality Department
Special to AFN

City and county officials have launched a coordinated effort to track down the source of an on-again, off-again stench that returned to Ahwatukee with a vengeance late last week.

Led by city Office of Environmental Programs, several Phoenix departments are working with freeway developer Connect202Partners, Southwest Gas and the Maricopa County Air Quality Department to track the odor that has been plaguing a portion of Ahwatukee intermittently since August.

“You can’t even go outside,” complained Ahwatukee resident Joe Lanzo on Saturday, Dec. 16. “It is actually seeping through the walls like a large sulfur smell.”

Lanzo, who lives near Desert Vista High School in what appears to be part of the affected area, said the stench had disappeared over the first weekend of December.

It returned on Thursday, the same day the county issued a high-pollution alert Valleywide.

Three weeks ago, during the previous air quality alert, the stench was so bad that Lanzo said his son woke up vomiting.

The area most affected by the smell appears to be bordered by Chandler Boulevard and Pecos Road and 40th and 32nd streets, according to county air quality officials.

Moreover, it appears that complaints to the city and county seem to occur largely at the end of the month, although the re-emergence of the stench last Thursday, Dec. 14, indicates no discernible pattern yet to when the odor occurs.

“Identifying the source of odors can be very challenging and particularly so when the odor comes and goes,” said Tamra Ingersoll, spokeswoman for the Office of Environmental Programs.

“Our focus is to develop some good theories about potential sources so we boost our chances for tracking down the correct source location or locations when the odor is present.

“We encourage citizens to call and report when they experience the odor. Any details callers can provide, particularly the time and location where they noticed the odor, and a description of the odor will help us narrow our focus,” she added.

People can call that office at 602-256-5669 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. and 602-261-8000 after 3 p.m. or on holidays or weekends.

So far, the probe has indicated two sewer manhole locations that need further investigation.

But investigators also are gathering information on private dry wells used for stormwater retention and control.

The city Water Services Department also has checked out storm drain open channels, outfalls and stormwater pipes.

“The water at the outfalls was clear and not stagnant, no problem areas were observed in the channels or the pipes and no odors were noticed,” according to a report obtained by AFN.

Tricia Baluff, program manager for the Office of Environmental Programs reported going out at midnight recently to an area on West 17th Avenue north of Pecos Road and detecting a “faint rotten-egg odor” that cleared up within a half-hour.

“This really seems to illustrate the elusive nature of this odor,” she said.

The city also is planning to check with Tempe for information on any construction projects in that city and with the Gila River Indian Community.

“Given the elusive nature of these odors, we need to get some monitors out there around the hotspots collecting continuous data for a week or so to get a better idea of levels/duration/location of what we are dealing with,” Baluff told her fellow taskforce members.

“Is there some activity that lines up with the complaint date trend? In particular, the City and Connect202 could check their activities and see if there’s anything that seems to be at least superficially correlated,” she stated, adding that wind patterns also must be checked to “help us focus on possible sources even further.”

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