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Ammonia smell at Charleston property ‘atrocious’ for next-door neighbor

When Matt Ashworth bought his aunt’s home in the 2000 block of Odell Avenue a year ago, he was ready to bring it new life. What he did not expect was overgrown grass, boarded windows and a strong smell of ammonia coming from the home next door.
Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 7:33 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - When Matt Ashworth bought his aunt’s home in the 2000 block of Odell Avenue a year ago, he was ready to bring it new life.

“I grew up in this house, this is a family house that my whole entire family grew up in,” he said Wednesday. “It has a special place in my family’s heart. and we want to keep it in the family if possible.”

What he did not expect was overgrown grass, boarded windows and a strong smell of ammonia coming from the home next door.

“Nighttime is not so bad; daytime in the heat is atrocious,” he said. “I can’t sit here on [my] porch I’m trying to do some remodeling here trying to get [my] place fixed up. I’ve had two contractors come to look at my roof to fix the roof. They will not do it because of the smell. They’re worried their guys will be exposed to some type of harmful situation.”

Last week, the Charleston Fire Department performed an Inspection for Toxic Inhalation Compounds.

The inspection report details some of the findings.

The report reads: “There were several cats that scattered from under the porch and crawlspace when we approached the property. A slight smell of ammonia was present as we approached the porch. A volatile organic compound detection machine was used outside the home and showed no response. However, when the detector was placed by a small opening at the side door of the home, the monitor showed a peak level of 172 parts per million (ppm) and began to alarm.”

The report continues: “Any long-term exposure to these levels would be dangerous to an individual inside the home. However, it is our opinion there appears to be no immediate danger outside of the home.”

According to Ashworth, city employees have been checking on the condition of the house.

Tony Harmon, the Charleston Building Commissioner, came by the house late Wednesday morning.

Ashworth took Harmon towards his own air conditioning unit, where he says the smell coming from the house next door is most noticeable.

“Let’s stand here, you start to smell it right now so let’s stand here for about 20 minutes,” Ashworth said to Harmon. “To try to prove a point there are no dangerous levels nobody can physically stand here and do that.”

Harmon said since the house is private property, the timeline gets complicated for taking the next steps. However, Ashworth said his patience is waning and the condition of the house is affecting the quality of life for him and his family.

“We’re in the process of getting a search warrant to get in the house to determine the condition of the house and whether it does need to be demolished or can be saved, it’s been posted unfit or unsafe for human habitation,” Harmon said.

He further explained the process the city must take.

“The city doesn’t take over the building. It’s still private property, and we still have to go through the process of dual notification and [the property owner] may want to fix up the house at a certain point in time after we’ve given them enough notice we’ll get a search warrant,” he said. “We’re doing all we can legally we don’t own the house private ownership does.”

“I understand it’s someone’s property I understand the law is in effect,” Ashworth said. “In situations like this where the property is this extreme I feel like there should be a faster track so to speak.”

Later Wednesday afternoon, workers contracted by the city came to tend the lawn. They said the last time they were at the house was in May.

Harmon said he believes the warrant can be signed and executed by the end of the year and once the city can enter the property they plan to take a humane officer to check on the cats seen on the property.

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