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Sewage odors swept over Niagara Falls tourist district

NIAGARA FALLS – A foul stench of sewage permeated the tourist district and other areas of Niagara Falls during the past weekend.

The funky odor swept through Saturday, Sunday and part of Monday, according to business people downtown and residents in several neighborhoods. The foul smell seemed to dissipate by Monday afternoon.

In a town where tourism is a major part of the economy and where visitors from across the globe flock to take in a natural wonder, the stink was not a welcome guest.

The stench generated complaints from guests eating breakfast at Perry Jost’s Elizabeth House Bed & Breakfast on Buffalo Avenue.

“It was unbelievably strong Saturday and Sunday,” said Jost. “It blanketed the whole west side of downtown, the whole tourist district.”

The sewage odor started Saturday afternoon and was the worst on Sunday, said Patrick Proctor, a member of the city’s Tourism Advisory Board.

“It was not normal,” Proctor said.

The Niagara Falls Water Board, which runs the wastewater treatment plant at 1200 Buffalo Ave., said there was a decrease in the pH of the sewage coming into the plant that coincided with the increased odor. When the pH, or acidity, of the incoming sewage changes – an event which board officials called “a little abnormal” – plant operators have to change the amount of chlorine used to deal with the odor, Water Board Executive Director Paul J. Drof said.

While some, less intense odors from the sewer plant are normal, the pungent smell was aided by a breeze out of the northeast, Jost said.

Jost said he was frustrated by what he described as a lack of concern from government officials.

“We’re businesses down here,” he said. “We rely on this stuff.”

The Water Board started getting calls about the smell late Saturday night, Drof said, with a couple calls coming as recently as Monday morning.

The agency is looking into several possibilities as to the cause, including sewer discharges by industrial facilities. Officials are also reviewing plant operations and conducting tests within the plant.

The board’s industrial pretreatment group staff, whose job is to enforce federal discharge limits, is contacting industrial customers to see if they saw any changes over the weekend. It is possible they may be able to test some samples, though officials acknowledged they were not able to obtain samples from the sewers themselves in enough time.

“It’s a moving target because sewage changes continually,” said Drof, who acknowledged a determination of the cause may never come to light.

“We’ll be on heightened awareness going forward,” he said.

Andrea Galyn said she and her family smelled the strong stench in her neighborhood, near Whirlpool Street and Pierce Avenue, all weekend.

The stagnant funk was worst on Sunday night, Galyn said. “We never smell sewage here,” she said. “The outdoors smelled worse than the one time my main sewage line backed up into my basement. It smelled worse than driving past the sewage plant on the worst day.”