Source of putrid gas smell narrowed down to two sites

CHARLIE MITCHELL AND GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 08:24 10/06/2016
Stacy Squires

Environment Canterbury staff were on a site in Maces Road, Christchurch on Friday morning with a "photoionisation detector", a machine that can detect gas.

Putrid stench over east Christchurch

STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ
Environment Canterbury staff conduct air testing at a site in Maces Rd in Bromley on Friday in a bid to identify the source of the stench.
IAIN MCGREGOR/ FAIRFAX NZ
Bromley School will remain closed on Friday.
STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ
Principal Scot Kinley closed Bromley School after a strong gas smell was reported.
STACY SQUIRES/FAIRFAX NZ
Bromley School closed on Thursday because of a gas stench plaguing the area.

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The origin of a putrid stench that closed a school and kept residents indoors has been narrowed down to two possible sources.

Environment Canterbury (ECan) air tested various sites in Bromley on Friday to find the source of the strange smell plaguing the east of the city. 

Hundreds of children missed out on school for a second day, as Bromley School told students to stay home. It is expected to re-open on Monday.

The odour had been described as "gassy" and "fishy" and made some feel physically ill.

ECan would not say which two sites it was investigating, but confirmed it was not the Living Earth compost facility or a site on Maces Rd it had tested on Friday morning.

"We are now following up with these two sites directly," said ECan regional leader of investigations and incident response Valyn Barrett.

"We expect the investigation to continue into next week."

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Staff had been using a "photoionisation detector", a machine that can detect gas. The smell had since disappeared.

Early in the day they tested a site at 180 Maces Rd, which is leased by a shingle company. The site's owner, Matt Butterfield, questioned whether ECan was on the right track.

"I'm 100 per cent confident they've [the company] got nothing to do with it... It was blowing easterly, so it was coming over from the back of us," he said.

The smell was "terrible" on Tuesday, he said – like a mixture of fish, gas and vegetation – but had since disappeared.

A commercial gardening supplies company at the front of the site had a large dirt pile, but it had been there regularly for three years without issue, Butterfield said.

He was sceptical ECan would find the culprit.

"They're just waving a wand, just being seen. There was no smell out there [today] and the wind was blowing directly towards us.

"If you ask me, it's got something to do with the poo ponds and the really low tides we're having at the moment."

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ECan had received seven complaints from Bromley residents about the smell. It had visited all of them by Friday afternoon.

Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey said there had been no reports of sickness attributed to the odour, and it was unlikely to be a health risk.

Bromley School principal Scot Kinley posted on the school's Facebook page on Thursday afternoon to say any definitive answers as to the smell's source or health risk "remains a mystery".

Rebecca Brewer, whose two sons attend Bromley School, said the ongoing closure was an inconvenience.  

"We just had a long weekend and now the boys are having another two days off. In terms of working parents it is a bit of a nightmare. 

"The school really should have organised something [on Wednesday] for childcare just in case this happened. They could have talked to the community hall or something so parents who needed it did have somewhere to send their kids," she said.

On Thursday, Barrett said an officer was sent to the area to investigate. He understood from complaints that the smell was "extreme". 

"The Fire Service also contacted us after identifying piles of earth at a site in Maces Rd as the potential source of the smell."

Further complaints were made on Thursday morning from surrounding areas, including Wainoni, Dallington and Bexley. An ECan officer would visit all the complainants.

Bromley resident Jasmine Anderson said the smell was unbearable.

"It turned my stomach. It made me want to vomit."

Kinley said the school, which had about 350 pupils, considered going into lockdown on Wednesday. Staff went to the industrial area to try and work out where it was coming from, without luck, and the school decided to close because the safety of the children could not be guaranteed.

Fire Service spokesman Riwai Grace said there were two calls from Bromley School and three from concerned residents on Wednesday. 

"Every time we have gone out there we haven't seen any source of the smell but obviously that's not good enough for people's peace of mind." 

Kinley said the school did not close on Wednesday because they were given the all clear by emergency services at 10.15am, and the children stayed inside "as a precaution" until 12.50pm. 

"The gas smell returned in pockets around 1.30pm and become stronger in certain areas after 2pm."

He then decided to close the school "until we have a clear answer to this issue".  

It was not the first time a smell has besieged residents in the area. 

Last year, the city council-owned Living Earth compost plant offended nearby neighbours. 

The plant was found to have breached its consent last March, and attracted 187 complaints in 13 months. 

- Stuff

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