A strong chemical odour has forced the city to stop sewer repair work in Ottawa's Hintonburg neighbourhood after homes were evacuated and store owners complained to the City of Ottawa.

On Feb. 2, work began to rehabilitate older sanitary sewer pipes to seal leaks and cracks, while also extending the lifespan of the pipes.

The process attaches a synthetic resin lining to the inside of older pipes and it's cheaper than replacing the pipes, plus excavation isn't necessary.

Two days after the work began, however, people started to smell a strong, foul chemical odour.

"It's not a smell, it's like a gas chamber," said Pavel Kincl, owner of ABC Driving School at 1129 Wellington St. "The smell was so intense that I had to let my secretary go home because she was ready to vomit. This is very, very serious business."

The smell is styrene, which comes in an epoxy used to repair sewer pipes without digging them up.

The odour was so strong it forced several families on Carruthers Avenue and another near Scott Street to find other shelter. The city even paid for one family to stay in a hotel.

Business owners complain of Hintonburg odour

Pavel Dincl of ABC Driving School, left, and Barb Davy of Extraordinary Baby Shoppe say the smell has definitely been strong throughout their buildings. (CBC)

While some repairs are complete, city officials have since stopped the rest of the sewer work. One shop owner thinks the process – while cost-effective – should be reviewed.

"I think that if they're going to do this again, they should only do it in the summer," said Barb Davy, an assistant manager at the Extraordinary Baby Shoppe next door to the driving school.

"The city has assured us that it is safe ... They assure us that it's not a health risk, but it's certainly not a nice work situation to be in."

Common work, odd case of odour

Residents and business owners were alerted to the sewer work before it started, but the odour was stronger than anticipated

The work is completed several dozen times per year without complaint, according to area councillor Jeff Leiper.

The odour can happen in buildings with poor plumbing but it's still abnormal, Leiper added.

"Obviously it's a really powerful smell and that is of concern to me. Normally this kind of odour isn't associated with the work," Leiper said, adding he will learn more from contractors in the coming days.

City officials and the contractor, Clean Water Works, continue to investigate the odour and how workers might be able to continue the repairs safely.

Officials encourage residents, if possible, to ventilate their homes when they notice a chemical smell indoors. Any resident that feels their health has been affected by an odour can call Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744.