Tuesday, January 9, 2007

The smell of Manhattan By Erik Blare

It was the fart that felled Manhattan.

On Monday morning, Jan. 8 2007, a foul odor invaded trendy Manhattan and parts of New Jersey, causing transit shutdowns, business closings, and angry New Yorkers demanding an answer to what was invading the normally clean, pellucid air of the Big Apple. The answer wasn’t rotten apple.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, D-R-I-G, and anything in between, announced at a press conference before noon that serious investigations determined that the smell was not natural gas. That’s cool, because natural gas does not have an odor at all.

What Bloomberg was saying, although it’s not likely he understood what he was saying, is that the smell wasn’t from pipeline natural gas. Because methane has no smell – and is dangerous because it is heavier than air and displaces oxygen, leading to asphyxiations in some circumstances (such as inside the oven or in a construction ditch) – hishonor was reassuring the public that there was nothing to fear from the odor, but fear itself.

Let us all breathe a collective breath of relief, while holding our noses.
“The smell is there, we don’t know the source of it; it does not appear to be dangerous,” Bloomberg said. “And some of the facilities that were evacuated or shut down are now being reopened or put back on line.”

Of course, if it was natural gas, there was not much to fear, either, for a variety of reasons. But that’s another tale.

The reason natural gas smells is that the natural gas industry adds chemicals – mercaptans – making sure it smells bad in order to alert consumers if their gas stove or heating system is leaking. The fear is explosion if the right oxygen and methane mix occurs (unlikely in the out-of-doors).

That’s why farts smell. They have body-made chemicals, thiols that are related to mercaptans, that add odor to the odorless methane. According to Wikipedia, “The odor of thiols is often strong and repulsive, particularly for those of low molecular weight. Thiols bind strongly to skin proteins, and are responsible for the intolerable, persistent odor produced by feces, rotting flesh and the spraying of skunks.”

So here’s the answer to the malodorous Manhattan conundrum: The East River Monster.

For many years, the more clear-headed of us observers of life in the Big Ap have know that a giant, Loch Ness-quality creature has been living in the East River. Every now and again, Eastie surfaces, to eat a Toyota pickup truck for a film crew, or to release a giant fart. Normally, the wind blows from west to east, sending Eastie’s effluvia toward his native Scotland.

There was no film crew at East River on Monday, and the wind was blowing from east to west. Uggh!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. Blare might want to take a remedial course in chemistry after writing "Because methane has no smell – and is dangerous because it is heavier than air...." Methane is lighter than air, about 56% the density of air, Erik.

Bob Maginnis

January 13, 2007  

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