We’ve all seen them and maybe even used them — Honey Buckets, the blue, green or gray portable bathrooms at concerts, fairs, parks and construction sites.
Now imagine that sometimes-foul odor lingering in your backyard, your car or even in your bedroom.
That’s what four Pacific residents, who filed a lawsuit in Pierce County Superior Court, say they smell since the expansion of a Honey Bucket operation across the street.
“It’s a homeowner’s worst nightmare,” said Samantha Niemi, who lives about 300 feet from the Honey Bucket property. When it’s foggy, you can taste it, she said.
Her 8-year-old son, William, gags when he plays outside, and other children in the West Cedar Glen neighborhood off County Line Road Southwest stretch their shirts over their noses in an attempt to block the smell, Niemi added.
They claim, in their lawsuit against Northwest Cascade and its Honey Bucket and FloHawks divisions, that odors, gases and fumes have exacerbated their asthma, caused headaches and devalued their properties.
Northwest Cascade President Carl Liliequist admits that when the company first operated the facility, odors traveled through the neighborhood. He said the company has invested tens of thousands of dollars in equipment to eliminate the odors.
“We believe the odor issues have been solved,” he said. “We want to be good neighbors.”
He wouldn’t comment on the pending litigation.
On Sept. 29, a Superior Court judge will determine whether the case will be certified as a class action.
If the status is granted, more than 75 homes in the same neighborhood could join the suit, limiting their financial costs and procedural burdens on the court.
Northwest Cascade operates a small wastewater-treatment facility and cleaning station for Honey Buckets.
Vacuum pumper trucks suck the contents of the Honey Buckets, wherever they are located, and carry the waste to the property in Pacific.
The sewage is pressed into biosolids used for agriculture and landscaping. The remaining partially treated wastewater is sent through the King County Metro Wastewater Treatment system.
The toilets are hauled to the Pacific facility, power washed and stored there until needed again.
Anna Shtogryn, another plaintiff who lives next to Niemi, said odors from the facility are so dense sometimes that her house smells like sewage when she wakes in the morning.
Depending on the wind direction, she said, the odor can last 20 minutes or several hours.
“My main concern is the health of my three children,” she said.
Shtogryn feels lucky when, for days, they don’t smell anything.
Problems started in 2014, when a conditional-use permit allowed Northwest Cascade to expand from a small sewage-treatment facility across the street to a cleaning site for the portable toilets.
About 5,000 portable toilets pass through the Pacific property each year, with 500 stored there at any given time, he added.
Each night about a dozen trucks pump raw sewage into the treatment facility. It also cleans the toilets in the Puget Sound area at its Puyallup headquarters and in Woodinville.
As the company grew, the smell intensified and people from nearby businesses and homes complained to the city of Pacific and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA).
Nearby companies also filed complaints with PSCAA, according to city public records, stating the odors were disrupting their work.
By May 2016, 47 people signed a petition, representing 150 adults and children, asking Pacific to force Honey Bucket to halt operations.
Three months later, the city ordered the company to cease operations for violating its permit, which prohibits the emission of obnoxious odors.
Northwest Cascade appealed, and the city held off on forcing it to close. Company officials opened a hotline so people could lodge complaints and even rate the odors’ intensity up to 5.
Then neighbors noticed another fragrance coming from the facility.
“Heavy perfume smell and other chemicals, Burning eyes, eyes are watering badly,” Debbie Bird, who lives across the street from the treatment plant, reported in a complaint to PSCAA. “Very nauseous, Bad cough. We can taste it. I can’t get the Perfume smell out of our clothes!!”
PSCAA issued a notice of violation in December 2016 against Northwest Cascade for using a masking agent to hide the emission of an air contaminant.
PSCAA also visited the site several times for odor complaints but has not found Northwest Cascade in violation.
Next door to the hundreds of Honey Buckets, Leon Borodyansky, owner of HUB Group Trucking, said he and his employees hadn’t gone outside for work breaks because they couldn’t breathe.
But he said it’s improved.
“I’m crossing my fingers,” he added.