Stench sends folks into frenzy

Combination of mushroom, steer and poultry products spread on field in Pitt Meadows, spurs emergency calls.

A farmer spread the manure on a field by Pitt Meadows airport.

A farm was sniffed out as the source of a foul smell that enveloped Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge last week.

The odour generated more than 200 calls to the Surrey dispatch centre Thursday and Friday, including 35 calls to 911. Pitt Meadows public works department received another 40 calls.

Residents complained the air smelled like faeces or rotting cabbage, while others pointed fingers at a sewage treatment plant across the Fraser River in Langley, or believed there was a gas leak in their neighbourhood. The smell even drifted across the Fraser River into Langley and north Surrey.

Ken Joyner and his wife found the odour so nauseating on Friday they contemplated staying in a hotel over night.

“I’ve lived here 60 years, but this was stronger than anything I’ve ever smelled,” said Joyner.

“We had our windows and doors closed and it was still coming right through the house.”

The barrage of complaints had staff from Fortis BC, the Maple Ridge fire department, the district’s public works department and Metro Vancouver driving across Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge and even over the Port Mann Bridge to check pump stations, sewage pipes and a landfill to pinpoint the source of the stench on Thursday.

Pitt Meadows operations superintendent Randy Evans knew who to blame for stink, but said no one from Maple Ridge or Metro Vancouver contacted him until late Thursday.

The fetid smell came from a farm on property between Harris and Baynes roads that belongs to the Pitt Meadows airport, where a mixture of mushroom, steer and poultry products was recently sprayed.

The extra warm weather and light winds enhanced the odour.

Airport manager Glenn Ralph was rather shocked to hear the smell generated so many complaints.

“It’s agricultural land, so farmer’s fertilize it,” Ralph said.

“This is what happens. It’s not pleasant. But it’s farm country … go out to Chilliwack and see what it smells like there. It’s a farmer doing what farmers do.”

A silage crop for feeding cattle will be planted on the recently fertilized fields.

Ray Robb with Metro Vancouver said the fertilizer had been stored on the field for months before it was spread and that’s what caused the rank odour.

His enforcement team is making sure a second pile of manure stockpiled on an adjacent field doesn’t emit the same stink.

“We’re going to do our best to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Robb.

“If you have manure and you prevent it from getting oxygen, it can form some of the stinkiest compounds imaginable.”

Metro Vancouver has yet to decide whether to level a penalty against the farmer as the smell could be viewed as a form of air pollution.

“If the smell is affecting people, the way this did, it could be a form of pollution,” Robb said.

Five years ago, Metro Vancouver dealt with a similar incident in Ladner.

Robb said Metro Vancouver has the power to regulate farming emissions in the region.

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