Video: Strange odor engulfs NYC

updated 1/9/2007 4:58:05 PM ET 2007-01-09T21:58:05

The gas-like odor that hung over Manhattan’s streets was gone Tuesday, but city officials were still trying to pinpoint its source — and eyeing New Jersey.

Charles Sturcken, a spokesman for the city Department of Environmental Protection, said Tuesday that his agency was pretty sure the source of the smell was along New Jersey’s industrialized waterfront, just across the Hudson River from New York.

“The way we tracked the dispersion of the smell and the prevailing winds indicates that it came from New Jersey, somewhere near Secaucus,” Sturcken said.

The strong odor, detectable from Manhattan’s southern tip to well past Central Park, led to some precautionary evacuations, and about a dozen people were taken to hospitals complaining of difficulty breathing, Fire Department spokesman Tony Sclafani.

There was no indication that the air was unsafe, though, and no indication of terrorism, city and federal officials said.

“It may just be an unpleasant smell,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a midmorning news conference Monday.

Complaints about the odor also came from Bergen and Hudson counties in New Jersey, but no air sampling was done there because the state Department of Environmental Protection had no specific locations to test, spokeswoman Elaine Makatura said.

'Left with a mystery'
Sturcken said that the odor could have been caused by mercaptan, the chemical added to normally odorless natural gas to make it easily detectable, but he added, “Nothing has been confirmed.”

“We’re left with a mystery, although we know it’s not harmful,” he said.

The wide extent of the odor provoked jitters in a city that is constantly reminded of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. A Department of Homeland Security spokesman said “there is no indication at this time of a terrorism connection.”

The smell permeated lower Manhattan and was detected as far north as Central Park, across the width of the island, and in New Jersey across the Hudson River.

Part of the New York-New Jersey PATH commuter train system, which carries 225,000 passengers a day, was shut down temporarily as a precaution but normal service was quickly resumed.

Several office buildings were evacuated and their air conditioning systems shut down, but city officials soon told building managers that people could return to work.

‘It’s really extreme’
Susan Badger, a retiree who lives in Chelsea, said she smelled the gas in the morning and left the apartment building at 27th Street and Eighth Avenue to escape the smell.

“If it’s throughout the whole city, it seems that it must be a lot of gas. It’s really extreme,” she said.

In August, a gaseous smell hit parts of Queens and Staten Island, sending seven people to the hospital.

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