An executive with the Virtual Wellness hemp plant in the community says his company always strives to be a good neighbor and has been engaged in ongoing efforts to reduce the exhaust associated with an odor that is unappealing to nearby residents.

“We’ve reached out to other industries to see what they do for odor mitigation,” said Chief Operating Officer Drew Milburn, noting that his company has tried various ways to capture the exhaust and is in negotiations with a Florida company which has something that could be used to mitigate the odor.

Milburn said he believes people will be happy if they will have some patience in the matter.

One group of local residents has gathered some 200 signatures and written a letter that was sent to both U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and Ryan Quarles, the commissioner of agriculture in Kentucky.

June Ezell lives on Oliver Road across from the hemp plant, which bought the building it now occupies on Roger Thomas Road in 2018, and she notes that the odor became apparent earlier this year.

“It actually comes in our house,” she said of the odor. “We can smell it. It makes our eyes burn. I get a headache right across the side of my head.”

Ezell added that it has made some family members sick to their stomachs, and she said that, in addition to any health issues, the problems with the hemp plant are contributing to the devaluation of people’s real estate.

She and her neighbors have spoken with Milburn, contacted local officials as well as a representative of the Environmental Protection Agency and thought it would be a good idea to contact their U.S. senator along with Quarles.

Quarles’ office reached back out to the newspaper, with Communications and Public Affairs Director Sean Southard noting that since the commissioner was copied on the letter and McConnell was the main recipient, the office would generally let the senator handle the matter.

He did say however that, in terms of the commissioner’s regulatory capacity, that office doesn’t regulate these sort of matters.

He said it would be handled by local officials. The Cadiz Record contacted McConnell’s office but had no reply by press time.

Ezell said she and her neighbors are not trying to close the plant or cause anybody to lose their jobs but just want some quality of life.

She said she knows McConnell voted in favor of growing hemp in the state as an extra farm commodity, although she believes that more research should have been done.

“We were just asking (McConnell) if he could help us, whatever he could do to help us,” she said of the senator.

She said several people have mentioned that something can be done about the odor, although it would cost money.

Ezell said if she and her neighbors don’t hear anything from their inquiries in a reasonable amount of time, they will contact McConnell and Quarles again. The letters and the signatures were mailed to the officials at the end of September.

Mary Grace Bridges also signed the petition and lives right across from the hemp plant. She said she too is concerned.

“I can smell that smell,” said Bridges, noting that she doesn’t know what can be done about the issues she and her neighbors have with the odor emanating from the local industry.

Bridges said she is worried that some people might get sick, and she said the neighbors are hoping that McConnell and others might find something to address the issue.

Milburn said his company has tried to be a good neighbor since arriving in the community, has already worked on the issue regarding the odor and continues to look for solutions.

“We’ve had the state out here on numerous occasions,” he said. “All the feedback, again, is we’re within the regulatory scope of what needs to be done. We feel it’s pretty much within the scope of what the state permits.”

Milburn explained his company doesn’t burn the hemp but dries it instead, producing an exhaust or vapor that comes off of the hemp and into the air as the plant dries.

To help mitigate the situation and address complaints, Vertical Wellness only dries its hemp four days a week.

Milburn said the company has also been working with several engineers to come up with a way to work the exhaust through a scrubbing device, again in an effort to be good neighbors.

Vertical Wellness employs 45 to 50 people and dries the hemp for itself and anyone else who needs those services, according to Milburn. The hemp is processed into oil.

The company uses its oil in Vertical Wellness products that Milburn said are sold on the market under various brands.

He said he wasn’t aware of the letters sent to McConnell and Quarles but reiterated his company’s desire to be a good neighbor.

“We’re not waiting for the state to tell us to do something,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out how to mitigate (the) situation.”

Bridges noted that she and her neighbors feel like it’s a community issue, and they want something done.

“I’m not necessarily trying to start any trouble,” she said. “I just want safety for our environment.”

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

Reach Tonya S. Grace at 270-887-3240 or tgrace@kentuckynewera.com.

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