It's more than just the smell.
A Port Washington woman mounting a petition drive to try to get Kleen Test Products to stop filling the city air with the dryer sheet "stench" says the odor is also making her ill.
"It makes my eyes water, it makes my throat swell up — it actually changes my mood," Amy Leder said of the smell that comes from fragrances used in producing the dryer sheets at the company's facility at 630 N. Moore Rd.
A city ordinance prohibits public nuisances, such as the emittance of "foul, noisome, nauseous or disagreeable odors ... extremely repulsive to the physical senses of ordinary persons."
But Leder has some simpler terms for the ordinance.
"You can’t make stinky smells that annoy people," she said.
Leder first complained about the smell to city officials when she moved here 2-1/2 years ago, but said she was told nothing could be done.
After finding the nuisance ordinance, she decided to start the petition and once again gave a formal complaint to City Administrator Mark Grams. The next day, Kleen Test officials called her.
She said she was told by officials the company has not received many complaints about the smell and it had engineers looking at the filtering system to be sure the smell is contained within the building.
Kleen Test Vice President Doug Arnold said the company, which has been producing dryer sheets in the area for close to 25 years, remains conscious of the products' smell.
“There are no (particle) emissions from the plant. All vents, doors and windows are kept closed at all times … we really work to make sure we keep it sealed up tight," he said.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources monitors such emissions, but Ron Dillahunt, an air management engineer with the DNR, said Kleen Test hasn't been visited in a while as it is below the threshold the DNR tests under recent budget restraints.
"It’s a smaller company … it’s exempt from needing a permit," he said, adding the DNR now focuses on larger manufacturing companies and power plants.
"I’ve gotten a few odor complaints over the years," he said, "basically it’s the perfume that smells and I don’t see anything specifically hazardous (about that)."
After speaking with the DNR about the odor, Leder said she researched more about the fragrance in the dryer sheets and one of its potential components — toulene.
The Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry explains that toluene is a clear liquid with a distinctive smell occuring naturally in crude oil and the tolu tree. It is used in products such as paint thinner, fingernail polish and rubber and enters the air around it when present, meaning people are exposed by breathing the chemical in.
Large amounts of exposure have the biggest impact on your brain and nervous system, often causing dizziness, fatigue and the inability to think clearly — among other symptoms, the agency reports. For instance, people who sniff glue will become light-headed because of the toluene.
Dillahunt said he can't say whether toluene is used by Kleen Test, but added it's not a chemical of high concern as far as the DNR goes. The chemical is used in common solvents and can also be purchased by the can at retail stores, he said.
Whatever chemicals the dryer sheets contain, Arnold said the company works to make sure it has as little impact on the community as possible.
"We do all we can and have, to prevent any fragrance from escaping, and I think anybody who’s been here for the 25 years we’ve been running will attest that it's gotten better over time," Arnold said.
Leder said she has no desire to shut down Kleen Test, she just wants the odor gone. She has gathered about 32 signatures on her peitions after making them available at area businesses, but she is not sure how high that number has to get before she can make the petition matter.
Leder plans to attend the Port Washington Common Council meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the issue with officials.