‘Smells like death’: Neighbors complain of smell near chicken disposal site

Nearly 3 million chickens were disposed of and buried after a bird flu outbreak on an egg farm in Palmyra
*NOTE: This is a stock photo.
Published: Apr. 23, 2022 at 3:44 PM CDT
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PALMYRA, Wis. (WISN) - It’s been nearly a month since 2.7 million chickens were killed and disposed of following a bird flu outbreak on the Cold Springs Egg Farm in Jefferson County.

Those chickens were composted on a site owned by the farm near Hooper Road and Zion Road in Palmyra.

It happened in March, but nearly a month later, residents are filled with concerns

“Most of us around here are not happy,” said Lyle Braaten, who lives directly across the street from the disposal site.

Braaten said he’s been concerned that the decaying birds will affect their drinking water.

Officials said they chose that site for disposal because the water table there is lower than on the farm, helping to guard against groundwater contamination.

Recently, the state supplied neighbors with water test kits.

The Braatens are waiting for their baseline test results, and plan to continue testing for months to come.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services previously told WISN 12 they were confident there won’t be a risk to the groundwater.

But residents near the disposal site now have additional concerns, this time about the negative effects above ground.

“You can smell it now,” said Ed Deleon, who lives about a mile northeast of the site. “It’s a God-awful smell. It just smells like death, and it’s constantly when that west wind blows straight to the east, ugh, I can’t even stand it myself.”

WISN 12 noticed the putrid smell Thursday while interviewing Deleon.

He said they started to notice the sour stench shortly after the birds were composted.

“Wait till it gets to 80 or 90 degrees,” Deleon said.

The sour smell is so bad the Deleons are changing the way they live.

“I’ll come outside for a few minutes or whatever but then I’ll go in the house,” he said. “If people were to come over, I’m going to tell them just don’t come over here because you’re not going to want to sit outside. You’re not going to be able to breathe because it’ll smell like, just like I said, it smells like death.”

WISN 12 reached out to the Department of Natural Resources to ask how long the stench could last.

A Wisconsin DNR spokesperson told WISN 12 late Thursday night “it’s hard to predict the duration of the composting smell as the weather (wind, moisture, heat) can play a role. The last pile was constructed last weekend, and the piles will remain composting for approximately 28 days from that time.”

The spokesperson went on to say “after most of the material is broken down and when DATCP releases the site from quarantine, it will be up to the farm owner to determine the final disposition of the material.”

They said the smell may continue for the next 28 days “with occurrences after that until the material fully breaks down or is removed or integrated into the site.”

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