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The big stink

Two weeks ago today, the people of Harford and Cecil counties had a rude awaking, or at least were subjected to a rude odor upon waking up.

An unfortunate series of events converged to bring the unsavory scent wafting into the area. The usually prevailing west-to-east breezes were operating in the other direction thanks to a late winter weather system.

Several miles to the east, and a bit north, on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River across from Philadelphia International Airport, there was a major spill of petrochemicals from a tank at the Paulsboro Refining Company. While the spill didn't pose a threat as it was contained on-site and didn't get into the river, its aroma was carried west to Perryville, Havre de Grace and points west.

Though the New Jersey Department of Environment said the fumes didn't pose a public health threat, word of the source of the smell didn't spread as quickly as the smell itself, and the result was a lot of people were concerned enough to call 911.

The few dozen reports to the Harford County 911 center did cause some confusion, but a sometimes questionable wonder of modern technology, the robo-call, proved valuable in spreading the word as to what had happened and that it wasn't something to be worried about. Like other bad smells, it would dissipate.

It did, but it showed people do have the good sense to be concerned when there's a chemical smell in the air, something that could well be a sign of something harmful.

All in all, it was a busy morning for emergency dispatchers. While it's fair to say there was no harm, it can't be said there was no foul, as the smell certainly was.

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