Mystery smell blankets South Jersey

January 4, 2008 4:08:00 PM PST
An odor raised a big stink across South Jersey today. Residents across 5 counties described it as acidic, some said petroleum based, others compared it to natural gas, which has a smelly additive to make it easily detectable.

At 8 a.m. Gloucester Township resident Kathy Hawn smelled it and was not puzzled, at first.

" We were supposed to have our parking lots redone, so that was my first thought," Hawn said. "So I got out to move my car and I heard other people complaining about the smell as well."

Hawn said it was a strong acidic odor that smelled like cat urine. She says her mother reported a similar odor 5 miles away. Gloucester Township police got several calls including one from School Superintendent Tom Seddon who noticed it around 8:15 a.m.

"I sent an e-mail out to all my building principals telling them that if they were not experiencing the odor, they may," Seddon said. "And that once the children were in the building, they should keep them secure in the building and keep the windows closed."

It wafted over communities from the Delaware River to the Jersey shore.

Camden, Gloucester, Salem, Burlington and Ocean counties were flooded with calls about the mysterious odor.

More descriptions came in, including the popular natural gas comparison, along with gasoline-like, and rotten eggs.

Gloucester County got 65 calls. Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Butts says some believe it could be the result of an environmental condition called "thermal inversion."

"On an extremely cold day, such as we are experiencing today the cold air keeps fumes that normally are emitted from a petrochemical plant closer to the ground ? does not allow them to dissipate," Butts said.

Police in Toms River, Ocean County received hundreds of calls from concerned residents between 9 and 10 in the morning. Most thought it was a gas leak. Air samples were taken but turned up nothing out of the ordinary Police Chief Michael Mastronardi says the smell went away, as quickly as it arrived.

"It dissipated roughly within a half-hour to an hour," Mastronardi said.

Officials with the Department of Environmental Protection and New Jersey State Police found no evidence that the odor originated at the Valero, Sunoco or Dupont facilities.

It did not seem to originate on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River.

So the stink remains a mystery tonight. It seems the answer was blowing in the wind.