Home > Uncategorized > Johanna Farms Flemington Plant Upset Causing Huge Odor Problems

Johanna Farms Flemington Plant Upset Causing Huge Odor Problems

Johanna Farms, Flemington NJ Plant - didn't smell Dairy Fresh

Johanna Farms, Flemington NJ Plant – didn’t smell Dairy Fresh

Woke up to a spectacular crisp and cool morning after the 100 degree heat and humidity broke. I felt so good I thought I’d boogie up the road to Flemington for a bagel and coffee.

Just as I hit the Flemington border on Rt. 31 I was overcome by a strong rank odor.

Leaving the bagel store, I met a man who worked for the Raritan sewer authority and asked him if his plant was having problems.

He laughed and said they were getting hundreds of complaints, but it wasn’t them – it was Johanna Farms just down the road (behind the car dealers on the western side of Rt. 31).

The Johanna Farms plant has a history of plant upsets that have caused major sickening odor and air problems. They discharge yogurt and juice waste residuals to on site disposal lagoons. They process the sludge and ship it off site for disposal on agricultural lands. Land application of this sludge on farmland has created local controversies due to strong odors, including in my town of West Amwell. (and this)

The Johanna plant also uses extraordinarily hazardous chemicals, and is regulated under the DEP Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act permit program.

The smell was so disgusting, I called the DEP Hotline (877-WARNDEP) to report a violation of the NJ Air Pollution Control Act. That law prohibits nuisance odors beyond the facility boundary.

In this case, the air for miles around was polluted with the stench of anaerobic decaying organic matter. I assume there must be similar local health laws regulating odors from this facility that need to be enforced.

Not confident that DEP would do anything to enforce the law and DEP air and water permits, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I drove to the plant and asked at the security gate for a meeting with the plant environmental manager.

I was given the phone number of Plant Environmental Compliance Manager Joe Saracini (908-788-2385). I called Joe. Shortly after he returned my call and I was able to get a good half hour discussion with Joe and the Company VP. [Correction – it is Tony Saracini. – I got his name mixed up with VP Joe (see comments for contact info). Thanks for comments John – that’s what they’re there for!!]

Initially, Joe tried to give me a BS story to downplay the problem.

Joe  claimed that 1) the problem was natural and caused by the heat wave; 2) that they were simply treating yogurt and juice byproduct in lagoons with swimming pool chemicals; and 3) that they were in compliance with all permits and laws.

[Update: to clarify, Johanna’s claims are flat out false: 1) the problem is not natural, but is caused by a waste treatment process at an industrial plant; 2) the lagoon contents are not “byproducts” they are regulated wastes. The “pool chemicals” used to treat these wastes are hazardous (NaOH); and 3) the facility is in violation of state law, DEP regulations, DEP permits, and perhaps local health ordinances.]

I called them on that and in so doing I learned that they were experiencing an upset in the pre-treatment process and waste lagoons. The lagoons had gone or were going anaerobic and were not responding to aeration and chemical treatments to stabilize the pH.

After persistent questioning, they conceded that they made a $5 million investment in a new pre-treatment, aeration, and lagoon processing system 10 years ago in response to DEP requirements after a catastrophic tank collapse, followed by a power outage. That event created anaerobic conditions and severe odor problems.

They also admitted that they had odor problems last year and that the most recent problem was ongoing and had begun last week.

The odors caused numerous complaints from nearby residents that led to plant inspections but no enforcement actions by the Hunterdon County and Flemington Health Departments. They said that DEP has not been to the facility to inspect or enforce.

I requested that they give me a specific plan to remedy the problem and a schedule – they refused to provide this info but said they had retained engineering consultants to answer those questions.

I thanked them for their cooperation and then called DEP Air enforcement to relay this information and request inspection and enforcement action.

I gotta tell you, their seeming inability to understand and appropriately manage a biological process in a lagoon did not inspire confidence that they can safely handle extraordinarily hazardous chemicals that can kill nearby residents.

We will keep you posted in terms of DEP and local enforcement response and whether the problem gets fixed quickly.

I really feel bad for anyone that lives nearby that stench.

thats a groundwater monitoring well in the foreground and construction adn demolition waste (illegal) storage in the background. Let's hope DEP inspectors cite them for this violation.

thats a groundwater monitoring well in the foreground and construction and demolition waste (illegal) storage in the background. Let’s hope DEP inspectors cite them for this violation.

Dairy Fresh?

Dairy Fresh?

view from the security gate - tanks in background

view from the security gate – tanks in background

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  1. Kate R.
    July 27th, 2010 at 09:16 | #1

    I CANNOT thank you enough for this article. You did an outstanding job! My husband and I have been sickened and, quite frankly, embarassed by this odor for the past two weeks. It seeps into our home overnight and by the morning I cannot get it out. Even when the weather is cool enough to open up the house overnight and FINALLY turn off the A/C, we can’t. The smell is too awful to allow that. I will also be calling the phone numbers you published, as well as DEP staff. A thousand times, thank you. I hope the local news outlets pick-up your story.

  2. July 27th, 2010 at 09:50 | #2

    Thanks Kate – you should forward a link to this post to all your neighbors and ask them to call the DEP Hotline an file complaints. I spoke w/DEP enforcement yesterday and they are now interviewing impacted residents who have complained. Here is the contact info:

    Call 1-877-WARN DEP


  3. John
    July 27th, 2010 at 11:54 | #3

    Great article. Minor correction – Environmental Compliance Manager is Tony Saracini, not Joe. Also, concerned residents may want to speak with Joe Bonner, Vice President, at 908-788-2369; email is: jbonner@johannafoods.com

  4. July 27th, 2010 at 20:02 | #4

    Thanks John – correction made – and I hope folks are reaching out to press. I understand Hunterdon Co, Democrat is interested.

  5. scott olson
    July 27th, 2010 at 22:28 | #5

    Bill – MyCentralJersey.com has a weak mea culpa from Johanna right now:

    Not very convincing,


  6. Toni
    July 29th, 2010 at 13:50 | #6

    I am a resident in flemington and live right next to Johanna Farms and I think it is a shame for all of our kids in the neighborhood to have to stay inside and play on their summer vacation. This happened several years and Johanna Farms I believe did receive a nice fine you think that they would put a fix to it. People that have pools cannot even enjoy sitting outside and swim with their family or friends. I had a family picnic scheduled this weekend with family and had to cancel it because you cannot sit outside and enjoy the beautiful weather. Hopefully this will be fixed soon and never should happen again.

  7. Adam Kuras
    July 29th, 2010 at 21:57 | #7

    Bill, fantastic reporting! If only our elected officials (and some of the paid journalists) would make HALF the effort to address a problem that has existed long before my 15 years of home ownership started here.

    I have already filed a complaint with the Raritan Twp Board of Health and they told me I was the first complaint! …and this after the first 2 weeks of the stench (I am a Dayton Rd resident receiving the full blast).

    It amazes me that our elected officials take NO action on this ANNUALLY occurring issue (some years worse than others). Dayton Rd annually always gets a week or two, although not this bad, which we tolerate because of its usually shorter and less intense tenure and the fact that engaging government to do anything always proves to be a life long effort (!).

    The lack of compliance and enforcement id galling. I am not familiar with dairy production waste but, I am reasonably confident that systems exist to properly manage the waste so as to capture the gases and recycle them as fuel for the plant (not unlike modern chicken facilities – look into it!). In addition, I will wager that there are “green” funds available from the state and/or feds and/or privately to finance such a recapture/energy project.

    Thanks for your help and lets hope our efforts in forwarding this to our neighbors finally gets some real attention from the people that should already be on this.

    Adam Kuras
    75 Dayton Rd.

  8. August 9th, 2010 at 04:46 | #8

    Thanks Adam – I spoke with DEP air enforcement on 8/5. They told me that DEP had not issued enforcement action because there were no impacted residents willing to sign a complaint – DEP said they only got 2 complaints, and 1 was unverified and related to another source of odor. DEP said Hunterdon County Health Dept. got “7-13 complaints” but they too could not get anyone to sign a complaint and also issued no enforcement actions. DEP is internally working with water enforcement – and it is technologically possible to enclose the lagoons and capture emissions to prevent the chronic local odor problems.

    I find this almost unbelievable. The odor was so strong, I am shocked than hundreds of people are not calling DEP Hotline and signing complaints.

    Is DEP info accurate? Did DEP just not try to find people? Or what is up in Flemington that people are wiling to out up with that stench?

  9. Fly on the wall
    October 5th, 2010 at 09:01 | #9

    I am not surprised of the feedback and bs you received from Joe Bonner, he is a pro in that department. I also would like to say perhaps if you looked at Tony Saracini’s background you would understand there is a major lack of knowledge, education & experience where he is concerned. From secretary to Manager of Environmental Waste Water Treatment?

  10. December 16th, 2010 at 10:37 | #10

    “Dayton Rd annually always gets a week or two, although not this bad, which we tolerate because of its usually shorter and less intense tenure and the fact that engaging government to do anything always proves to be a life long effort (!).”
    Can about it more?

  11. Jay T.
    June 13th, 2011 at 15:42 | #11

    Has anyone smelled the recent smell (think cat urine)? At first I thought that’s exactly what it was. Then I thought maybe it was some random trees in bloom that emanated the smell. Now I understand from neighbors that its source is…you guessed it…Johanna Farms. How do they get away with it?

  12. June 13th, 2011 at 18:53 | #12

    @Jay T.

    Jay –
    If you think the source is Johanna Farms, you and as many neighbors as possible should call Flemington and Hunterdon County Health Departments and complain.

    Also please call the DEP Hotline and make a complaint: 1-877-927-6337


    Be sure to request an interview with a DEP air enforcement inspector and ask to sign a complaint.

    Is the odor there now? If so let me know and I’ll drive by to confirm and file a complaint myself tomorrow.

  13. Adam Kuras
    June 16th, 2011 at 10:43 | #13

    Yes – the odor is there now….it is pretty much every day…not necessarily all day, but it creeps in here and there throughout the day. I have called the County Health Dept. and filed a complaint. They said they are aware of the problem, admitting that it is indeed JF, and taking care of it…we all know what that means. I am putting in another call today and will be calling the DEP as well. Here it is beautiful weather and it’s painful to have the windows or the door open.

  14. Kitty Ward
    June 26th, 2011 at 21:18 | #14

    @Bill–The smell is very strong at different times. It was very strong this evening, particularly on Dayton Rd., or at the corner of South Main and Route 202. I plan on contacting the above numbers Monday. This is truly unacceptable and the newspapers don’t really seem to pick up on it.

  15. Krissy
    July 4th, 2011 at 21:32 | #15

    I noticed this horrific smell for the first time last month, driving back and forth to my friend’s house near Dayton Road. It actually gets in your car when you drive through it and lingers! I encouraged her to call the twp and complain and the health dept. did confirm it was Johanna Farms. I can’t believe this has been an ongoing issue. She will be filing a complaint and I seriously hope it will make a difference. I understand that they are being heavily fined right now and trying to come up with a solution to their problem.

  16. Vas
    July 6th, 2011 at 08:39 | #16

    It is now 2011, and there is still an odor in the town. We noticed it about a month ago. Where we live, the air smells like cat urine, but closer to the Johanna farms plant it smells like decaying flesh. We had been wondering for a while what the smell was and who to call. After reading your article we plan to call the DEP. Has anyone else noticed the smell this year? We posted something on Yahoo a few weeks ago in response to someone elses post about it, but Yahoo deleted the postings.

  17. July 6th, 2011 at 09:11 | #17

    Vas – I spoke with Hunterdon Co. Democrat to give them a heads up –

    You and your neighbors need to do at least 3 things:

    1) call DEP hotline and file a complaint
    2) call Hunterdon Co health Dept and file a complaint
    3) go to the next meeting of the Raritan Township Commitee and explain the issue to them and ask them to get involved. Be sure to give newspaers an advanced notice heads up when you are doing this to be sure thay are there to cover it.

    I can help – let me know.

  18. Maga
    July 27th, 2011 at 19:51 | #18

    The smell is discusting. It does smell like cat pee. It’s very unhealthy. I live in the neighborhood next to Johanna Farms. Alot of people around here are having sinus problems over and over again. People are developing bronchitis and pnemonia. Im wondering if this has anything to do with Johanna Farms. Is anyone else having these issues? It’s worth looking into.

  19. July 27th, 2011 at 19:55 | #19

    Maga – thanks for your comment.

    The solution to this problem is to force DEP to enforce the law adn mandate that JF upgrade its treatment system or shut it down.

    Neighbors impacted by the odors need to organize and sign complaints and presure DEP to enforce the law.

    Are you working with your neighbors?

    Maybe we ould build an email list here and get folks talking to each other.

  20. Stephanie V
    August 11th, 2011 at 00:45 | #20

    I have just moved here in the Flemington South Estates and we are ALARMED by the stench. I haven’t even unpacked yet and I don’t know that I am going to. I have already called the 1-877-Warn-Dep # and gotten a case #. First thing tomorrow I am going to call (973) 656-4444 to report it locally to the DEP. I am also calling the Raritan and Flemington Board of Health and Hunterdon County and I am ready and willing to sign a complaint. Who else is willing to step up and be counted? Let’s get a lawyer and let’s start legal action. I cannot believe the amount of money people pay here in mortgages, rents and taxes and this stench is ok???? This is the foulest of toxic odors. Even the girls who work at Rita’s last night complained about the stench. Let’s join forces and get this taken care of. The billboard in Flemington says, “you’re going to love it here and so far I HATE it and regret ever setting foot in this town. Stand up people of Flemington and Raritan and fight for your town. It’s a beautiful place that smells NASTY and is hazardous!!!!!!

  21. Bill Wolfe
    August 11th, 2011 at 10:23 | #21

    @Stephanie V
    Stephanie – thanks for your comments.

    Lawsuits tend to be costly, come with long delays, and are risky.

    Sometimes it can be more effective to organize your neighbors, educate media, agitate, and politically presure government to do their job and enforce the laws.

    What is going on at Johanna is illegal – DEP can Order them to upgrade the treatment system (which is operating in violation of DEP permits) and stop these odors.

    If DEP fails to do that – or Johanna refuses to comply with DEP requirements – then you should take the litigation route.

    But I recommend that you exhaust DEP option first.

  22. Peter Nardelli
    August 12th, 2011 at 13:47 | #22

    I just called them and left a voice mail for Tony Saracini (today is Fri 8/12/11). We’ll see if he calls back. I’m ready to sign a complaint or petition and take action. Tbis odor every summer is entirely unacceptable and now I see from this article we’re dealing with possible illegal and toxic processes.

  23. Peter Nardelli
    August 12th, 2011 at 13:56 | #23

    Further, I just called the NJ DEP hotline and registered a complaint with them. I was given a case number and a phone number to follow up with the NJ DEP Air Compliance & Enforcement office for northern NJ which is where this complaint will be sent to. I can call that number and follow up as long as I reference the case number.

  24. Peter Nardelli
    August 12th, 2011 at 14:16 | #24

    More info. Sorry for the repeated messages. I spoke with the Raritan Twp Board of Health. Rose told me that Johanna Farms is in the process of installing new odor control and air processing equipment to rectify this problem. I then called the Hunterdon County Board of Health and registered a complaint. Rec’d a case number. She too advised that JF is in the process of rectifying the problem.

  25. Peter Nardelli
    August 12th, 2011 at 16:17 | #25

    I just had a nice conversation with Tony Saricini at JF. The lagoon is the source of the odors and when it gets hot and humid, the normal odors present in the lagoon increases dramatically similar to a person sweating in the summertime. Essentially, what they are doing now is working to do away with the lagoon altogether and install a closed system for processing the yogurt and juice waste before it is shipped out for agricultural application. They met with the NJ DEP just today (8/12/11) and told them this is their plan. Again they’re going to eliminate the outdoor lagoon and install a new state of the art closed system. This should be a permanent fix. They are going to hold an open house later this year. I hope to attend.

  26. Bill Wolfe
    August 12th, 2011 at 17:23 | #26

    @Peter Nardelli
    Thanks Peter – I drove by on Rt. 31 about 30 minutes ago adn the smell was pretty bad.

    I out little confidence in verbal commitments.

    People should demand that the new treatment system be memorialized in an enforceable DEP Administrative Consent Order (ACO). The ACO should provide a schedule to have the new system operational, stipulated penalties for failure to meet the schedule, and significant fines for the current egregious ongoing repeat violations (at least $1 million fine).

    Don’t let up pressure, or that will let DEP and JF off the hook and lead to further problems and delays.

  27. Helene N
    August 12th, 2011 at 21:42 | #27

    What is going on at Johanna Farms tonight? I just called the DEP Hotline 1-877-927-6337 and hope that my neighbors are doing the same! Ladies and gentlemen, did we buy homes in this area so that we can never open our windows or gag as we walk out of the front door? Even the Shoprite smells. The odor is completely out of control! If it is bothering you as well, please file a complaint with DEP. Surely there is something we can do to stop this.

  28. August 13th, 2011 at 07:02 | #28

    @Helene N

    Dear Helen and fellow readers:

    In addition to pressuring DEP, you need to take additional steps such as contacting your state legislators and the media.

    Letter to the editor get the word out.

    Suggest you need to form a group: “Stop the Stink in Flemington” or soemsuch and hold a very visible protest event.

    A dozen people with Stop The Stink and “Johanna Farms Stinks” signs on the corner of Rt. 31 and the plant in the mornign rush hour (with media invited adn a pres release) would be a great thing to do!!!

    Organize yourselves into a group via email – use this site to do so.

    Who’s in for that?

  29. Stephanie V
    August 24th, 2011 at 14:01 | #29

    I’m in……let’s do this. I didn’t move across the country to pay NJ prices to live in a beautiful area where I cannot open my windows or go outside. This is BEYOND RIDICULOUS!!! Doing this is long overdue!!! My husband is in too!!! I agree that a verbal commitment from them is worthless. Plus, according to the DEP this is a 10 year plan that they have to enclose this mess which should have been enclosed years ago. This needs to be done now!!!! An open house later this year, that’s NOT ACCEPTABLE!!!!!! We need the ACO in place and we needed it yesterday!!! Let’s rally, let’s do the signs, let’s do the media, let’s go!!!! Who else is in??? I’m ready to go Friday am to Johanna Farms with signs!!!!!!! Please post so we can organize and get moving!!!!!!

  30. bill wolfe
    August 24th, 2011 at 14:08 | #30

    @Stephanie V
    I’m in.

    How about Friday at 8 am?

    We need at least the following things:

    1) someone to take the lead on drumming up people to participate and organizing them via email list, twitter or phone;
    2) signs,
    3) people,
    4) a press advisory (issued tomorrow)
    5) a press release and
    6) a fact sheet and/or statement of the problem and list of demands by neighbors.

    That’s a lot to do in 48 hours, but it can be done.

  31. Stephanie V
    August 24th, 2011 at 15:05 | #31

    I just got off the phone with the DEP and here are the updates. The DEP is working on entering into an ACO with Johanna Farms. The DEP is waiting to receive plans including a timeline from Johanna Farms regarding installing an indoor waste water treatment system. There is still a section of piping that needs to be removed from their outdoor pond they are dumping the waste solids into and they have installed seven new pumps and currently an eigth pump is being manufactured for installation. Complaints regarding this noxious odor date all the way back to 2002. It’s 2011. We need to apply maximum continual pressure to the DEP and Johanna Farms to let them know they MUST enlclose their waste water system immediately, in fact it should have been done already. They are a LARGE manufacturing plant and must handle their manufacturing issues WITHOUT polluting the air of this entire community. We need to let them know that Flemington stinks, they know its due to them, and let them know we are not going to put up with it or tolerate verbal promises anymore. We need to demand the written plan for the indoor waste water treatment system, demand they sign an ACO agreement with the DEP and demand they get this done NOW!!!!!

  32. Stephanie V
    August 24th, 2011 at 15:22 | #32

    I can take #1 and I can certainly make a sign. I can help with the press release, fact sheet and list of demands. If you are in please contact me at flemingtonstinks@hushmail.com with your name, address and phone number and what you are available to assist with. I have created an address esp. for us. Let’s organize, let’s demand, let’s hold Jahanna Farms to the fire with the help of the NJ DEP!!!!!!!

  33. Betty
    September 7th, 2011 at 23:43 | #33

    Have you experiencing the higer noise from Johanna Farms lately? worst at night.

  34. Chris
    February 12th, 2012 at 09:04 | #34

    Johanna farms has been in existence since 1926, Now Johanna Foods. This is not a new problem. Usually only detected on very hot summer days in the direction the wind is blowing.I can remember the sludge pond aroma wafting into the center of Flemington on select days way back into the 1970’s as I lived there as a child. This is a story like the Hunterdon county chicken & Hogg farms from the 1950’s , Someone has to move to the county because they want to leave the city, yet they don’t want to have the smell of chicken & hogg farms, or they want to be close to an airport / train station for commuter convenience , but they don’t want to see a plane or hear a train. Keep it up and Johanna willbe just like Lipton Tea, tired of dealing with all the NJ B.S. and pull out.They offer hundereds of jobs and quite a bit of tax dollars to Hunterdon County. I suggest they were there first so anyone not liking it = MOVE.

  35. Chris
    February 12th, 2012 at 09:09 | #35

    Betty , in the past the night time noise was due to the Jockey tractors moving trailers. The old yard switcher tractors uesed Detroit s stroke engine which when rev’d up the sound would carry for miles on a clear cool summer night.That too was an old problem, The updated equipment using the much quieter Cummins engines should have resolved that. Kinda the same situation when the Flemington speeedway was running on Saturday nights. You could hear that between 5-10 miles away with the right conditions.

  36. Chris
    February 12th, 2012 at 09:19 | #36

    @Stephanie V
    Stephanie, it is 2012. This problem has dated back decades. It is nothing new, I can remember it back to about 1975 living in the center of Flemington being a child of about 6 years old. The only thing new is the people moving into the area not familiar and compaining about it. They didn’t grow up with it, so it is a unfamiliar odor. I am sure there is more of it aswell due to plant expansion & volume over the years, now with all the developments encroaching on the JF property property boundaries , especially the houses that have sprung up on Dayton Road right behind the sewer ponds the smell is literally in peoples back yards. This I am afraid should be on the realestate disclosure form when people buy houses in the immediate area!

  37. Chris
    February 12th, 2012 at 09:25 | #37

    This smell has been around for decades. Long before all of us were here. Does any of you realestate records identify the smell on the sellers disclosure sheet? Perhaps some are barking up the wrong tree.

  38. Brian
    August 24th, 2012 at 09:44 | #38

    I live on Gulick Road. Seems that now JF is paying the local farmers to spread the waste on the local fields. Today the whole area reeks thanks to a local farmer that decide to take the JF Cash and the sludge.

  39. Jon lambert
    May 6th, 2013 at 02:43 | #39

    Very informative. However I would be interested in seeing how many of those complaining lived in the areas in question before Johanna farms. Farmers have spread manure for years. Can’t handle the smell move to the city. No wonder everyone hates people from jersey

  40. May 6th, 2013 at 08:12 | #40

    @Jon lambert

    John – you are confusing 2 different issues – the Johanna Farms plant is located in Flemington. The sludge land application is located in West Amwell, about 5 miles away. Do Google Maps.

    The material is not manure, but a industrial sludge, so it looks like you haven’t read or understood the post.

    When people moved is irrelevant, because both Johanna and the sludge operation are creating illegal impacts (air pollution, water pollution, and odor/nuisance).

    I notice that you are a trucker – so let’s take a poll and see if people hate truckers more than folsk from Jersey. I’ll wager you lose.

  1. July 28th, 2010 at 09:59 | #1
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