Staten Island Mystery Stench

Published Aug 28, 2015

NEWS:   Staten Island residents reported a "mystery stench" on 28 August 2015.

Staten Island (one of New York City's five boroughs) is not known for its olfactory pleasantries on its better days; on 28 August 2015 that condition intensified to a degree that prompted many residents to call the police.

It wasn't the first time Staten Island was pungent enough to make the news. In September 2007, the New York Times published a Metro Briefing titled "Staten Island: More Bad Smells." That article reported that the "source of the odor" was undetermined:

A foul odor reported yesterday over Staten Island, particularly at Curtis High School and in New Brighton, was identified by fire officials and the Department of Environmental Protection as gas fumes. No injuries were reported, but students could be seen covering their noses and mouths.

According to the Staten Island Advance, reports of a less-than-pleasant scent permeating the borough were first called in by concerned residents shortly before 8 AM. Reporters queried residents as to whether they detected the unpalatable odor and, if so, what they might liken it to:

"It smelled like crabs and tuna in the South Beach area and Kmart Shopping Plaza," said Danielle Boncini, when asked by an Advance videographer in the ShopRite parking lot in New Dorp.

"I felt like I was in a crabbing boat," she added.

Wayne Quacinella of Westerleigh described it as the reeking odor of garbage.

"The smell is God awful," Quacinella said, adding that the windows of his home had been opened in an attempt to enjoy the "beautiful weather."

"Smelled it on Victory and Slosson today," said one reader, Carmen. "Fish, egg, ammonia, garbage smell."

"I thought there was a dead animal near my house," said another, Kathleen.

NBC News reported that the residents in the northernmost reaches of Staten Island first detected the smell. A Facebook discussion referenced by the Advance included speculation about what might have caused the pervasive odor, as well as comparisons to an earlier scent mystery that shared some parallels with the most recent anomaly (but was by most accounts more pleasant).

Starting in or around 2005, a bizarre and omnipresent smell known as the "maple syrup event" began intermittently permeating parts of Manhattan and the outer boroughs:

The city's 311 information line was flooded with callers reporting the smell of maple syrup, or something like it, wafting across several neighborhoods, a spokesman for the Office of Emergency Management said.

Nearly all of the calls — 35 in just a few hours — came from areas in Manhattan, the spokesman said, although one caller reported smelling the sweet scent across the East River in Queens.

The strange, syrupy scent has descended on parts of New York City and New Jersey at least three times before. Beginning in the fall of 2005, people in various areas of the city and nearby New Jersey reported the scent.

Those reports perplexed residents (many of whom feared potential terrorism) for years; but public health agencies eventually attributed the maple syrup smell to a factory in New Jersey that processed fenugreek seeds.

Unlike the pervasive odor in that long-term event, the as-of-yet unexplained smell Staten Island has been described as overwhelmingly unpleasant. And while residents have offered a range of scents for comparison ("feet," "garbage," "low tide," and "rotting fish" among them), officials do not yet know what caused it.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

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