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Mystery ice encases neighborhood ; Snyder residents convinced waste is falling from sky

As if the numbing cold of January wasn't enough, Snyder residents have been greeted each morning by a particularly disturbing sight.

Brown, yellow and green icicles with a distinct smell hang from gutters, and residents believe they're made of -- put your breakfast down -- human waste, possibly from an airplane that discharged its restroom tank midflight.

And that was before the thaw. Rising temperatures have left behind piles and puddles of brownish-green muck in a five-block span that includes a small park. And, worst of all, the muck carries a distinct smell.

"At first when you see the yellow, you think it's maybe fuel," said Howard Cadmus, 32, of Washington Highway near the Buffalo city line. "But then when it starts smelling, you know it's not fuel It smells like human excrement. It's human waste. It's biological waste."

The substance has stumped county, state and federal officials who have inspected the area and chemically analyzed samples, to no avail.

"We, at this point, have not been able to determine what the source of the material is," said Scott Zimmerman, lab director for the Erie County Department of Health.

Health Department spokesman Kevin Montgomery said inspectors took samples and concluded it posed no public health risk.

He said it did not contain a certain bacteria found in feces of warm-blooded animals. But he said since the samples were taken a week after they reportedly appeared the first week in January, the cold temperatures may have compromised them.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation sent an engineer to the site last week, and Burger said several residents have been in contact with Amherst town officials. DEC and Amherst officials could not be reached to comment late Monday.

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration has said it checked flight patterns of airplanes from the second week in January, when many residents reported finding their houses speckled with a wastelike substance. Spokesman Jim Peters said no planes flew over the Snyder area during that reported time.

Peters said the FAA also took samples and determined the substance "was not waste from an aircraft." He said he did not know whether the department chemically tested the substance.

"Our guys are all airline-industry people with years of experience, and when they go out and conclude from an on-the-spot exam that it did not come from an aircraft, that is all I need to know as far as reasons," Peters said.

Peters said that while accidental flight dumps are a "rare occurrence," leakage from the tanks, which are separate from the aircraft, has occasionally happened around the country.

He said a purple substance reported a few years ago by residents of the Northeast turned out to be waste from a flock of birds that ingested berries.

"Unless it was a pterodactyl, I don't know what bird [would do that]," said Fawn Schmidt, who lives near Cadmus. "It's terrible. It's all over everything, and as the icicles get bigger, it's getting worse."

Schmidt said she can't walk out her door without stepping on a yellow slab of ice. She wondered whether her recent vomiting was a stomach bug or from exposure to the substance. Schmidt has been knocking down the icicles and placing them in the road.

Whatever the source of the stinky substance, health officials and residents agree on one thing: A case like this is rare.

"It's definitely not something you see every day," said Snyder resident Dan Berger, who found a green substance and semi-solid gel on the side of his house. Berger said residents from Berryman Drive to Harlem Road have reported seeing the substance.

"Do we see this often? No, we don't," said Zimmerman, the lab director. "This is a bit unique, I guess you would say."

Erin Mahoney, of Berryman Drive, said splotches of an unknown substance are "the last thing I need" with two young children. But she said they appeared in small spots and are having no effect on her son.

"He's out there eating snow and he's fine," she said of her young son. "I don't know how worried I am."

e-mail: cspecht@buffnews.com

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