The Big Apple Mystery of the Week: Why did NYC have bad CO (city odor) of natural gas with mercaptan yesterday? The malodorous bouquet freaked out people from all over Manhattan (even parts of Brooklyn) and parts of eastern New Jersey. The city's various agencies determined it was not a terrorist attack and that the odor was "not dangerous." So most of the blame fell to our neighbor, New Jersey.

The city's Department of Environmental Protection said they were "pretty sure it came from New Jersey." DEP spokesman Charles Sturcken said, "The way we tracked the dispersion of the smell and the prevailing winds indicates that it came from New Jersey, somewhere near Secaucus." The NJ Office of Emergency Management confirmed to the Post that the hypothesis of an odor traveling from the NJ swamp land to the noses of not just Garden State resident but New Yorkers as well was within "the realm of possibility." Still, there's no clear conclusion to put this mystery to bed.


Yesterday morning was disrupted for some. People were nauseous; PATH train service was suspended at 34th Street, Macy's evacuated its employees while other office workers voluntarily left their buildings, and residents worried that their buildings had gas leaks. Con Ed explained, "There are no abnormal changes in the gas flow in our gas transmission system. If there was a big leak, we would see a change in the gas flow." Heh, gas flow. But imagine all the kids (big and small) who will now be using the new "The city was so smelly I got sick" excuse!

And mercaptan, my captain, is a chemical added to natural gas to give it an odor so it can be detected. Mercaptan is also created when things naturally decay - and naturally occurs in nuts and cheese. That actually explains a lot.

Gothamist on the maple syrup smell mystery.

Photograph of the empty PATH station at 34th Street by Pete Morgan/AP; photograph of Con Ed workers testing a manhole in Greenwich Village by Sacha Lecca