2006-08-18 / Community

Officials Point Fingers Over Mystery Gas Smell

By Howard Schwach

The calls started coming into The Wave office at about 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

"I'm a nurse and I have a good nose," one typical caller from 103-00 Shore Front Parkway said. "This smell is terrible and it's not the usual water treatment plant smell."

"I never smelled anything like this," reported a man on Beach 98 Street and the boardwalk who called on his cell phone. "It seems to be coming from the ocean."

In fact, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officials say that the smell was coming not from the ocean, but from Bayonne, New Jersey by way of Staten Island.

The first reports of the mystery smell, which felled a number of Staten Island residents, came from a boater off the Kill Van Kull, west of Bayonne at about 9:30 a.m.

By 10:15 a.m., the calls started coming in from the St. George section of Staten Island, nearby the Bayonne Bridge.

Hundreds of calls flooded the 911 emergency system. Workers at Clove Lakes Park closed the facility. The HIP Medical Clinic on Clove Road was evacuated and dozens of ambulances were called to provide oxygen to people who could not breathe because of the noxious smell. Twenty-one people were taken to local Staten Island hospitals, one EMS spokesman told reporters.

By the time the smell reached Rockaway, however, it had dissipated to the point that, EMS officials say, there were many calls to the fire department, but nobody had to be taken to the hospital as a result of the smell.

The Coast Guard sent out pollution investigators into the waters around Staten Island, but could find no cause of the smell.

A Coast Guard spokesperson said that the agency contacted New Jersey environmental officials to try and determine if the source might have been a floating barge or could have been a leak of gas being loaded or unloaded along the coastline.

Workers from KeySpan Energy, the company that provides natural gas service to Staten Island spread out looking for a gas leak.

A spokesperson for the DEP said that its experts could find no cause for the smell and that their machines recorded no anomalies in the air.

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