More than a dozen residents in Wilmington alerted the state’s Department of Environmental Quality after picking up hints of the aroma during the weekend after Thanksgiving, the Wilmington Star-News reports.
“I put a pillow over my face just to give myself something to breathe through,” resident Nick Zachetti told the newspaper, adding that he started picking up the scent after moving to the city 11 years ago.
Zachetti’s neighbor, Pamela White, has also recognized that something’s amiss in the air, saying the scent doesn’t make you think, “Oh, I want to bottle that and do a Chanel ad around it.”
Brad Newland, regional supervisor of air quality at the DEQ’s Wilmington office, said it’s unclear what nearby facility or facilities are causing the odor, but said the agency has “locked in on” several industrial plants in the area as a possible source.
“I know that the catty odors have impacted downtown from time to time, and in my personal experience, the odor seems to vary,” Newland told the newspaper. “Sometimes it smells like pure cat urine to me, and sometimes it smells similar but different.”
Whatever caused the stink, cold fronts in the area can make it even more overpowering as denser air traps odors near the ground, Newland said.
State environmental officials want to be told immediately when someone catches a whiff of the putrid smell.
“If you’re experiencing odors, we need to be notified in a timely manner because it’s difficult to go back in time and ascertain how bad it was and what the cause may have been,” Newland said.
The smell, unfortunately for some residents, isn’t a new phenomenon. Newland was on a team that studied it in the 1990s but found no answers.
“I remember standing in a plume of this stuff and taking these samples and thinking, ‘I know I’ve got it now,’ ” Newland told the newspaper. “But when I took it back to the lab, there was nothing to be found, nothing to be detected.”
Meanwhile, the Charlotte Observer reports that complaints about the smell have circulated on social media for years, with one woman claiming she first noticed it in the late 1980s, believing it to be a mix of swamp gas, fumes and several industrial plants along the Cape Fear River.
But no evidence has been found thus far to indicate a health risk to residents, Newland said.