British Columbia

Port Moody's smelly mystery solved by air-quality investigators

Air-quality investigators have pinpointed the source of a pungent rotten-egg stench that's been polluting the air in some neighbourhoods of Port Moody, B.C., near the Barnet Highway since Aug. 9.

Pacific Coast Terminals confirms wastewater treatment plant at its Burrard Inlet site was to blame

Part of the Pacific Coast Terminals facility on the Burrard Inlet in Port Moody, with the houses of Easthill Park behind. The neighbourhood bore the brunt of the stench released by a wastewater treatment facility at the industrial site. (Yvette Brend/CBC)

Air-quality investigators have pinpointed the source of a pungent rotten-egg stench that's been polluting the air in some neighbourhoods of Port Moody, B.C., near the Barnet Highway since Aug. 9.

The sulphur-like stink led to 195 complaints to the Metro Vancouver regional district, many from residents frustrated at having to close their windows to avoid the odour as temperatures rose.

Once Port Moody Fire and Rescue determined there was no danger from a gas leak, Metro Vancouver's air-quality complaints team got busy trying to find out what was causing the smell, which was described as chemical or sour.

Investigators chased the stench and followed it upwind to confirm the source.

Source pinpointed last week

On Sunday, Pacific Coast Terminals confirmed that the bad odours were emanating from its seaside shipping facilities, where there were problems with a water treatment plant.

Metro Vancouver officers inspected the site on Thursday and discovered bacterial growth in industrial wastewater treatment ponds.

It's believed the anaerobic growth was caused by a combination of warm weather and a lack of rain, resulting in foul-smelling reduced sulphur compounds.

The ponds have since been flushed and chlorinated, according to Metro Vancouver.

Kathy Preston, Metro Vancouver's air-quality regulations program manager, confirmed Friday that they had found a suspected source of the smell, but didn't want to identify the company involved until investigators could confirm there weren't multiple sources.

She said it was emanating from a partially organic, partially chemical source.

A bright yellow pile of sulphur can been seen peaking through the yard of Pacific Coast Terminals near the Barnet Highway in Port Moody. The shipping company exports sulphur and other chemicals to China. (Yvette Brend/CBC)

"Officers did find sources of odour at a facility that were consistent with odours that they observed in the Easthill Park neighbourhood," said Preston on Friday.

"The company has agreed to clean up these potential sources."

No health risk, company says

Pacific Coast Terminals — which exports sulphur and ethylene glycol to China — confirmed in a statement they were working to fix the issue as fast as possible.

According to a statement from vice-president Andre Olivier, the source of the smell poses no health risks. He asked for patience as work is done to fix the issue through a process that may entail "brief surges" of more odour.

"We have engaged third-party specialists to assist and expedite the remediation process," the statement said.

"We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience and regret our contribution to the odour issues we've all
been experiencing this week."

Over the weekend, 60 more complaints were filed about the stench, according to Metro Vancouver.

Preston said the human nose is very sensitive to sulphur-like and rotting odours.

So she expects people will soon know if the problem hasn't been solved.

"The way we evolved, we can smell odours — particularly sulphurous odours or odours of something that's gone bad or rotten — at very, very low concentrations. The human nose is definitely the best instrument for measuring odour."

Kayakers enjoy a paddle in Burrard Inlet near Port Moody with the Pacific Coast Terminals facility in the background. (Yvette Brend/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@cbc.ca or on Twitter or Instagram @ybrend

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