Sunday, November 27, 2011

I Smell Covington

The other day, I stepped outside to enjoy the still, crisp morning air.

A foul, fetid odor greeted my nose. The smell was something like sewage brewing in a coffee maker and I hurried back in the house before the polluted air could trigger an asthma attack. I recognized the stench instantly. I could hear my mother's voice echoing in my brain. "I smell Covington," she was saying. I remember her saying it many times when I was a child.

It has been a while since I smelled Covington, but when I was growing up in the foothills of Caldwell Mountain, I found the odor wafting from the paper mill in that small, rural city to be quite strong even though it was an hour's drive away from my childhood home. Many mornings you could hardly stand to walk outside without retching because the air currents had brought the scent of the industry straight into our valleys and left it there.

Since I moved away (granted, just six miles but apparently enough to make a difference), I have rarely smelled the paper mill, which is now owned by MeadWestVaco. The papermill has been there since 1900. According to Wikipedia, in 2002, MeadWestVaco as a whole (it's a big company with mills and offices and plants all over the United States) was listed as the 57th largest polluter in the US.

I thought perhaps I no longer smelled Covington because better environmental controls on the paper mill in the last 20 years had kept the place from gagging people for a hundred-square-mile area. And this might be so, since, according to Wikipedia, the company has taken steps to ease its environmental impact. The EPA lists pages and pages about the plant on its website if you do a search for it.

The papermill employs about 1,500 people in the Covington area. Covington is in Alleghany County, which was once part of Botetourt County and now lies next door, but further back in the mountains. It is an interesting place, as I have been there a few times.

Covington began as a town around 1817 or so. It became a small city in 1952.

Just so you know, not smelling Covington is just one of the reasons why I am glad there is an EPA.


  1. Paper mills do emit a strong odor. My hubby has worked in several of them when he was in the construction industry. He said he eventually got used to the smell but I can't imagine that it would be good for anyone.

    Yes, thank goodness for the EPA!

  2. I've never been to Covington.... remind me to take a pair of nose plugs if I ever do.

  3. We were just up the road from a paper mill when we lived in Louisiana. Everyonce in a while the wind would blow just right and yuck! Such an odor.... I'm glad to be away from it!


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