Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What Was That Smell?

That's what I wondered yesterday morning when I emerged from the subway in midtown. That is what my coworkers wondered as the dampers in our midtown building were shut to reduce the smell seeping into the offices. And that is what the nation wondered as it caught up with the recent headlines regarding the gas-like odor that drifted throughout New York City and parts of New Jersey.

In a post-9/11 New York, there were sirens, evacuations and up-to-the-minute news coverage. Yet many New Yorkers and Jersey neighbors remained calm - mostly wrinkling their noses and making jokes. In fact, Stan H. Eason, a spokesman for Jersey City said, "We’re going to get some industrial fans out and blow the smell back over to New York."

As I left to run an errand on another floor, I peeked into my boss's office and nonchalantly mentioned, "I'm headed outside to light a cigarette. I'll be back in a few."

After receiving a text message I had sent about the weird smell, someone (from the South, who will remain nameless) texted back: "I farted a few days ago. Meteorologists said it was headed northeast. My bad."

According to The New York Times, mysterious odors come and go in the New York City area, sometimes never identified.

In August, a pungent smell wafted through Staten Island, alarming hundreds of residents. The City Department of Environmental Protection dispatched a hazardous materials crew, using equipment to test air quality for “volatile organic compounds,” which are emitted from a range of products from stored fuels to aerosol sprays to paint.

But the investigation into its source proved fruitless.

In a city scared of terrorism, pungent odors, sweet or sour, can raise vague worries about some kind of chemical attack.In October 2005, an extraordinary sweet smell wafted from downtown Manhattan to the Upper East Side, Prospect Heights in Brooklyn and parts of Staten Island.

While personally exploring these Manhattan aroma-nomenas via google.com, I came across gawker.com's New York City Subway Smell Map, which charts the following smells reported throughout the city's train transportation system: alcohol, body odor, chemicals, feces, food, mold & wet, perfumes, sewage, urine and vomit.

In a city of 8-million people, I am guessing that mysterious smells are inevitable. And Joe.My.God has a theory.

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