News

Mysterious 'noxious odor' taints air in Palo Alto

More than 200 residents called city emergency lines between 5 and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to report a mysterious "noxious odor" in the northern part of Palo Alto, Sgt. Sandra Brown said.

Many others calls came from Menlo Park and East Palo Alto residents, officials reported.

City fire and utility crews have not been able to find the source of the odor. Neither city utilities nor Pacific Gas & Electric have reported any broken lines in the area, Brown said.

"We don't know where it's coming from," she added.

Two residents said the odor smelled like natural gas.

The odor was also reported from as far south as Midtown and in southern Menlo Park and East Palo Alto.

The weather station at Palo Alto Airport registered a 6-mile-per-hour breeze from the northeast shortly after 7 p.m.

At 7:25 p.m., Palo Alto activated its new Community Alert and Notification System to alert residents of the odor. Emergency coordinator Sheryl Contois said San Mateo County officials also reported receiving numerous calls from Menlo Park and East Palo Alto residents.

The U.S. Coast Guard duty officer said there were no incidents reported from the bay that could account for such an odor.

Officer Graciela Castillo of the California Highway Patrol Redwood City office reported that no possible source of the smell, such as a truck accident or other incident, has been reported.

Brown said the emergency-notification system sent approximately 22,000 messages to residents, and 80 percent were answered by someone or an answering machine. To receive such alerts, including on cell phones, residents and businesses must register for Connect-CTY on the ity's Web site at http://www.cityofpaloalto.org , Brown said.

--Don Kazak

Comments

Posted by James, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 23, 2008 at 8:08 pm

As of 8:00pm, near Palo Verde school, I don't smell anything unusual here. All is quiet.


Posted by PV Resident, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 23, 2008 at 8:16 pm

As of 8.15 it can be noticed here if you think "is there a smell" otherwise you would just think it was someone with an odd smelling fire in their fireplace, I would call it an odd smoke smell.


Posted by Univ South resident, a resident of University South
on Jan 23, 2008 at 8:22 pm

It was very strong in my neighborhood around 5:15. I thought I had a gas leak in my home. Didn't call as it started to subside. Don't smell it now?


Posted by PRP, a resident of Community Center
on Jan 23, 2008 at 8:24 pm

Smelled it when I cam home from work @ 5:30 but by the time we were back from dinner (7:30) it had dissipated.


Posted by Palo alto nurse, a resident of Professorville
on Jan 23, 2008 at 8:26 pm

Outside it's definately a gas smell and it's strong at times and weaker at other times!- We closed all the windows in the house and are staying inside here in north PA....So...do we just wait and see.... or think about leaving the neighborhood? What I can't understand is they first smelled this gas smell at noon today on Hamilton Ave and still have no answers or found the point orgin yet. This is very strange-


Posted by Palo Alto resident, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2008 at 8:36 pm

My son noticed an odor this morning, driving on Embarcadero near El Camino. I thought it was just fireplace smoke kept in the air by low clouds. It's still strong enough to notice. Does anyone else have irritated eyes?


Posted by helen, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2008 at 8:42 pm

So glad to know that I didn't lose my mind and that I wasn't imagining things! Husband couldn't smell a thing....it is less now than at 4:30 p.m. when I was ready to call someone about it. Just kept hoping the house wouldn't explode.


Posted by Jim, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2008 at 8:47 pm

There was a lot of work today on Channing and side streets - digging into the street, installing new pipes. Makes me a bit suspicious (and nervous)


Posted by Dumpster, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 23, 2008 at 9:32 pm

Hey folks, ever heard of the P.A. dump? It is almost exactly NE of town, close to 101 and of course at the end of Embarcadero.

If you have a northeasternly wind blowing then it will take the dump smell and waft it over Palo Alto. Dumps tend to smell like surphur, which is the odor gas companies add to natural gas (which has no smell) to make leaks identifiable.

Welcome to the dump. :)


Posted by Al R, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2008 at 9:43 pm

The dump's been there for decades. Never smelled that before. It may well be the source of the smell, but it would be the first time in many years. I've seen what natural gas explosions can do - I prefer to err on the side of caution.


Posted by bRIAN, a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 23, 2008 at 11:04 pm

It's a meth lab. i think.


Posted by JP, a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2008 at 11:12 pm

I have smelled that "natural gas" type odor several times before when I was at the Post Office on East Bayshore Road. The last time was over a year ago and I reported it to the city. I was told it was coming from Ciardella's Garden Supply. That company has now moved out of the area, but the smell is back. Hope they locate it this time. It is NOT a healthy smell.


Posted by Joanna, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2008 at 11:41 pm

It's 11:30pm and I could smell a chemical/fireplace smell. It's present in the air, but not as strong as a skunk's odor.


Posted by helen, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 24, 2008 at 12:13 am

I've lived in the neighborhood since 1989 and never smelled that smell before either. Nor have I smelled any of the hundreds of times I have been running/walking at the Baylands over those same years (next to the dump)


Posted by Robert B Harrington, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 24, 2008 at 6:01 am

The City's Emergency Notification System worked perfectly for me.

Within 10 minutes of 7:10 pm, I received a very clear alert and instructions to call 911 if I knew the source of the odor three different ways 1) via phone, 2) via voice mail on my fax, and 3) via email.

I signed up about a month ago, and the City came through with flying colors.


Posted by PV Resident, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 24, 2008 at 11:17 am

Any more news as to what this was? Is it still smelly in North PA? It has gone from here.


Posted by the_resident, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 24, 2008 at 12:03 pm

I thought the odor might be related to the Gas Main work around Hamilton and Channing.

As of Thurs noon, there is a strong gas smell near Hamilton.


Posted by Kaybee, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 24, 2008 at 5:01 pm

Okay, it's 24 hours since all the phone calls began pouring in to 911. Why no explanation?
The only thing I can think of is that Romic in EPA is taking its last "dump" before being closed forever.


Posted by JP, a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2008 at 6:35 pm

Still no explanation? Was it Romic? Was it gas? Was it even toxic? Why is this forgotten so quickly? Has there even been a statement about the health risks that this incident did or did not cuase?


Posted by BJ, a resident of another community
on Feb 15, 2008 at 10:26 pm

I'm in Escondido. . . there is an awful acrid sorta chemical smell outside now. I smelled it also last night but not as bad. I brought my dogs back inside it was so bad.


Posted by TN, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 23, 2008 at 8:14 pm

The dump is on fire, it does not normally smell this bad. In Menlo Park west it stinks - choking smoke - and you can see the smoke in the air.
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