What stunk up Northside? Officials think it was asphalt, engineers say it can't be

Posted at 1:49 PM, Sep 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-21 18:45:21-04

CINCINNATI -- Something stunk up Northside on Tuesday morning.

Officials said it's likely asphalt, but a city engineer said the paving didn't begin until after the smell was reported.

The Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency got its first of nine complaints at about 8 a.m. Most were centered around Northside, though people on Facebook reported the weird odor in Westwood, Cheviot, Spring Grove Village, Mount Auburn and Clifton.

However, David Krusling, project engineer with the City of Cincinnati, said paving didn't begin until 9 a.m.

On Facebook, some described it as smelling like fuel or plastic. Nick Nagelhout said it wasn't very strong when he smelled it. 

"It didn't smell dangerous to me, it just was a weird smell," he said.

Joy Landry, SWOAQA spokeswoman, said two investigators were in the field by 9 a.m., using handheld meters to figure out the odor's source.

Two examples of field equipment used to investigate odor issues. Photos courtesy Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency.

The meters detect volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that might be causing odors.

By 2 p.m., Landry said the agency believed it found the source.

"The main odor in Northside was asphalt," she wrote, "and our investigators observed a paving project."

Crews were working in the area of Spring Grove Avenue and Blue Rock, on numerous side streets north of William P. Dooley Bypass.

Part of the problem might be this week's weather, Landry said: Relatively calm air means there's no wind to dissipate smells that might be imperceptible on other days.

According to the city of Cincinnati's Department of Transportation and Engineering, streets in Clifton, Mount Auburn, Heights and the CUF areas of Clifton Heights, University Heights and Fairview are getting their final asphalt surface this week. Crews will start working in East Price Hill, North Price Hill and Lower Price Hill by early October.

Residents and businesses will get a notice from the paving contractor about 48 hours before work begins.