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West Stockbridge cannabis grower, environmental firm offer the science behind proposed odor mitigation plan

Not all neighbors are satisfied with the explanation.

West Stockbridge — Faced with mounting questions about Wiseacre Farm’s 2023 annual report that included a novel odor-mitigation plan, part-owner Jon Piasecki hosted a March 28 meeting for neighbors and West Stockbridge officials who voiced concern over the cannabis-growing facility’s odors, with a presentation from the plan’s designers. The session and plan were a response to complaints made by West Stockbridge and Richmond residents last fall about the skunk-like smells emanating from the outdoor field during harvest time when the plants’ smells are the most pungent.

“This is an old-style-New England way of doing things,” Piasecki said. “We talk to our neighbors, and we try to work it out. We’re genuine in that regard.”

Wiseacre Farm’s odor-mitigation plan is promulgated by Byers Scientific, a California-based company whose staff has studied the chemistry of cannabis and its associated odors. “We use data to solve [an issue] and then we come up with solutions and systems that we design that meet the need of that particular installation,” said Byers Scientific founder and namesake Marc Byers remotely.

The firm’s staff includes Dr. William Vizuete, who is also a professor of environmental engineering at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He studies air quality monitoring and measurement, developing techniques to both measure and predict what gases are emitted by plants.

“When it comes to cannabis, however, that data didn’t exist at all,” Vizuete said. He initiated research to understand what emissions are emanated from cannabis plants, identifying the “odor-causing molecule.” According to Vizuete, peer reviews of his findings have been performed and those results replicated in other studies.

By understanding how much gas the cannabis plants are breathing out, or emitting, Vizuete said his team can get a sense of quantifying the neutralizing product needed to break down that odor concentration to an acceptable level. Identifying the odor-causing molecule also provides a standard for designing a plan catered to that molecule, he said. Local meteorology, such as wind direction, can help determine the dispersion of the odorous molecule, predicting where that smell will go from a facility, Vizuete said.

Byers Scientific Vice President Josh Rembusch presents his firm’s odor-mitigation plan to attendees at a Wiseacre Farm meeting last month. Photo by Leslee Bassman.

The Wiseacre plan uses Ecosorb CNB 204, a plant-based agent designed to neutralize malodors, said Byers Scientific Vice President Josh Rembusch who was present at the meeting. He boasts an undergraduate degree in safety management and a master’s degree in business.

The product has recently appeared in various publications including Processing Magazine and Food Engineering.

Air molecules containing the neutralizing agent are deployed through nozzles running along the fence line, Rembusch said. An agriculture fan is used to direct the malodorous cannabis molecules into a downslope back corner of the facility’s field where they bind with the neutralizing molecules to create compounds that combat the offending smell, he said.

“It’s not a perfect solution,” Rembusch said. “However, this is the most innovative solution that is available on the market today.”

The neutralizing agent is comprised of ultrapure water and steam-distilled, plant-based oils, with the latter serving “as the main active ingredient to counter the odors that are in the air,” he said. Although the blend doesn’t contain any synthetic products, its specific recipe is proprietary and, therefore, not shared, Rembusch said. “Surfactants, additives that allow oil and water to mix, are also included, with those additives found in food and used in cosmetics,” he said.

According to Rembusch, Ecosorb CNB 204 has endured third-party testing to determine its safety from the standpoint of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and has been approved for use in California, a state with a high threshold for environmental protection.

A weather station has already been purchased by Wiseacre to provide real-time data, including that of prevailing local winds, and assist in directing the fan and product. A web-based app will be created so residents can inform Piasecki if they are sensing an odor.

Byers said the plan’s goal is not to mask odor but to mitigate it, and the project marks the first time an agriculture fan will be employed with the atomization system.

Response

For Cross Road resident Jennifer Kujawski, the smell emanating from Wiseacre has impacted her lifestyle. She said she was interested to hear the plan for the farm and its scientific basis, finding that news “promising” following the presentation. “So, I’m very encouraged and looking forward to working with them, hopefully getting this up and running and mitigating the odor,” Kujawski said.

Piasecki said he is aiming “to build the best facility east of the Mississippi.” “And that means we have to keep our neighbors happy,” he said. “We are trying to do our best with experts who use science to do that.”

But, for some residents, that is not enough. One attendee, who identified herself as a “concerned Richmond resident,” said that not all plant oils are innocuous and queried what might be in Ecosorb’s mix since its materials are proprietary. Rembusch responded that the product’s materials are required to be disclosed to OSHA. Another guest asked for information as to where the resulting compound accumulates after Ecosorb has bonded with cannabis odor molecules.

Follow up

In February, the West Stockbridge Select Board approved the hiring of a town consultant, Tech Environmental, to review and comment on the plan. The Berkshire Edge reached out to Select Board Chair Kathleen Keresey regarding the status of the hiring and any reports Tech Environmental may have produced to date but did not receive a response by press time.

On April 1, committee members of the Neighbors Advocating for Fresh Air (NAFA) submitted a statement to the West Stockbridge Select Board reviewing the March 28 meeting at Wiseacre Farm. Although the signatories applauded Piasecki’s “desire to respond to the quality-of-life issues” in the community due to the outdoor cannabis facility, the correspondence voiced the group’s continued concern for safety related to the Byers plan and Ecosorb.

Specifically, the email cited concerns over the agriculture fan being “malfunction-free” when it arrives from its New Zealand manufacturer; requested an independent, town-sponsored individual to be on call to “smell the air at the time of the complaint” and file a report; and asked the town provide when the consultant was hired, as well as share the consultant’s findings with the public.

“NAFA appreciates Wiseacre’s efforts to formulate solutions to the odor issues and for including the community in meetings with Byers Scientific,” stated Thomas Ruffing, a founding member of NAFA, to The Berkshire Edge in an email. “The group is looking forward to the town’s consultants’ independent review of the odor-mitigation chemical’s safety and efficacy for this situation.”

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