Cans of Coors beer are displayed on a shelf at a liquor store on May 2, 2018, in Fairfax, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
The city of Golden is tucked into the Rocky Mountain foothills, just 20 minutes outside of Denver. Golden has long been a hub for quintessentially Coloradan activities: hiking, biking, rafting, climbing and visiting breweries. The city proudly maintains its Western character, declaring that Golden is “Where the West Lives,” on an arch perched across the downtown’s main drag. Likely due to its small-town charm and outdoor access, Golden’s draw is on the rise, its average home value now hovering above $800,000.
Golden also has a smelly quirk, apparent to anyone visiting Golden from the east. A few minutes after bearing right onto Colo. 58, the Golden Highway, drivers become engulfed in odor pollution emanating from one of the city’s oldest landmarks: the Molson Coors Beverage Co. brewery.
In addition to nearly 20,000 citizens, Golden is home to the largest single-site brewing facility in the world, an industrial behemoth slurping up water from Clear Creek and pumping out 1.5 million gallons of Coors and Miller brand beers each day.
Considering its location in a city so firmly established as an outdoor enthusiast’s haven, the Golden Molson Coors brewery has a disappointingly inconsistent environmental record. Although the brewery became landfill free in 2013 for recycling or reusing nearly all of its waste, Molson Coors opposed a state bill that would expand recycling throughout Colorado in 2022. And while a Coors employee asserted that the Golden brewery is one of the most water efficient in the world, water pollution from the site killed more than 50,000 fish in 2001, following a slew of other water pollution violations.
Despite its self-proclaimed environmental leadership, the Golden Molson Coors brewery is indisputably responsible for odor pollution that, while less harmful than water or air pollution, has incredible longevity. By some accounts, the site has stunk for at least 20 years. That’s because Molson Coors has a large on-site treatment plant to process wastewater from the brewery. Molson Coors also operates a smaller treatment site within the brewery complex that processes much of Golden’s sewage via a contract with the city. According to Golden city officials, the smaller treatment plant “has not historically had odor issues.”
Although odor pollution primarily functions as a blight on an otherwise beautiful, accessible landscape, it may have more serious ramifications. Some studies have correlated bad odors with nasal obstruction, headaches or eye irritation. According to a National Institute of Health study, people subjected to long-term bad odors have lower subjective well-being. Fortunately, the wastewater treatment plant odors do not consistently waft beyond the Golden Freeway. But when maintenance issues at the brewery occur, like the build up of “sludge,” from 2019 to 2021, the stench can become omnipresent.
Various odor control technologies for breweries exist, and Molson Coors has identified upgrades that could mitigate the brewery’s smell. Due to the contract between Golden and Molson Coors, however, the city may be obligated to financially contribute to certain treatment plant upgrades. It’s uncertain whether the city would continue its contract if Molson Coors, which is worth more than $15 billion, requested funding from the small city’s budget. If the city does eventually end its contract with Molson Coors, Golden would need a new municipal wastewater treatment plant.
The road to the beautiful city of Golden shouldn’t smell like Porta-Potty. Nor should Golden residents’ taxpayer dollars be used to mitigate the negative, smelly externalities of Molson Coors’ business. And the city should not be forced to funnel money and develop more land to create a new sewage plant when enormous facilities lay directly outside of the city limits.
The best option is for Molson Coors to recognize its obligation to the community it has been looming over for more than a century, and to expediently finance upgraded odor pollution control technologies at the Golden brewery.
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