What's that smell? Fuel stench stinks up Windsor neighbourhood

An abandoned diesel fuel tank was uncovered by a construction crew at 1200 University Ave. W. Residents on nearby Elm Ave. said the smell is so strong it's giving them headaches and are concerned it may be toxic.

An abandoned diesel fuel tank was uncovered by a construction crew

Greg Allen says it's been a few weeks since he and his wife have been smelling fuel off and on. Sometimes the smell is so strong it gives them migraines. 1:00

Residents living near 1200 University Ave. W. say the smell of fuel has been overwhelming.

Since November the smell has come in waves. Greg Allen has lived on Elm Avenue since he was born and said the smell is affecting his household.

"I've gotten migraines from it. My wife's gotten a couple of migraines from it. My dogs, when they're out in the yard they sniff and sneeze and you can tell that they're affected by it," he said.

The lot has been vacant for some time and Allen said residents would often see individuals experiencing homelessness come and go from the site through the alley. Now that construction has started on the property, however, the smell can be so strong it comes through the walls of their home and Allen is worried it could be toxic.

"We got this really obnoxious smell — smelled like some kind of fuel or something and it just wouldn't go away," he said.

Allen added that once the crews stopped digging, the smell dissipated a little, but returned when there was some heavy rain last month, even though there was no digging.

After the rain stopped, so did the smell. Allen said once construction crews began digging again, the smell came back stronger than ever.

The construction site expects to pump out the old fuel tank and remove it next week. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

"Wednesday it was really bad. The smell was in our house. So we went outside and then, we're like, 'Oh it's smells terrible out there' and then we went back in the house and then an hour later it was like, 'Oh my God it's in our house,'" Allen said.

He worried that the fumes could be more than just fuel. The city confirmed that an old fuel tank was found after crews were removing asphalt on the property to prepare for further development.

The land had previously been a restaurant and prior to that a car barn for S.W. & A. Street Railway, (Sandwich Windsor & Amherstburg Street Railway) — the precursor to Transit Windsor — said Paul Drca, manager of environmental quality for the city.

"Not expected, but not surprising to find old abandoned fuel tanks on sites like that," he said.

The tank could date back from the 1920s to 1940s. Back then, Drca said, there were no regulations pertaining to fuel tanks or disposal of waste, so some were just left abandoned.

Getting rid of the smell

Staff from the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks were at the construction site after being notified that an underground diesel tank had been found. Spokesperson Gary Wheeler said the removal of some pavement caused the release of odours from the soil.

"The property owner's environmental consultant began the work to clean known contaminated spots at the site approximately two weeks ago," he said.

Work has stopped at the site and Wheeler said the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) is the agency responsible for overseeing the removal.

"The ministry continues to monitor the situation and will oversee the removal and disposal of contaminated soil from the site to ensure that the environment remains safe," Wheeler said.

You would want to pump it out and get anything residual ... out first ...- Alexandra Campbell, Technical Standards and Safety Authority spokesperson

Now that it's been identified as a fuel tank, the owner has to pump it out and then remove it, according to Alexandra Campbell, a TSSA spokesperson.

"[They need] to pump it out and make sure there is no residual fuel, and given there's been odours, it seems like there likely is," she said. "You would want to pump it out and get anything residual or remaining fuel that's in there out first before you start moving the tank around."

She said finding old fuel tanks isn't common, but there are rules for proper disposal to which the contractors will have to abide.

A contractor on-site said the old fuel tank will be pumped out and removed next week.


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