Baltimore stinks...literally

I have been working in Baltimore the last few weeks. Our client is located in the Inner Harbor section of the city. Each day as I travel from the hotel to the office, I experience a horrible gagging sensation due to the extremely terrible smell that the city has. I've asked several people what the terrible smell is. My cab driver told me it was the harbor. Another told me he didn't smell anything. After a few more inquiries and a little secondary research, I found out why the city smells. Read the following paragraphs (or the title links to the entire article) to find out why...

"For more 80 years (thanks, in part, to the intractable laws of gravity) Essex has been on the business end of the city's toilets. The Department of Public Works has run a sprawling wastewater-treatment facility on the shores of the Back River since 1912.

"One hundred years ago, Baltimore had the dubious distinction of being one of the largest cities in the world without a comprehensive sewer system. What we did have was some 90,000 cesspools and a hodgepodge of private sewer lines that drained without fanfare into the nearest body of water. The never-reticent H.L. Mencken wrote in his book of boyhood reminiscences, Happy Days, that summertime Baltimore "smelled like a billion polecats." Making matters worse, the cesspools would often overflow, requiring a visit from a brave crew of workers operating a wagon-borne pump-and-hose contraption called an "odorless excavating apparatus" (which, old accounts suggest, was a bold-faced bit of doublespeak on par with anything in 1984.)

"Cruise east on Eastern Avenue today and, just after you pass beneath North Point Boulevard, a pair of gold, ovate domes come into view. This is the modern face of sewage treatment. Each 150-foot-tall "egg" holds 3 million gallons of sewage being "eaten" by an army of poo-loving bacteria.

"In any event, informal interviews with folks at a shopping center in the shadow of the plant reveal that it's far less stinky here than it used to be, before the cutting-edge eggs went up in 1992. A pair of Ames cashiers taking a smoke break told me it only gets unpleasant on particularly humid days, or after a heavy rain. The affable bartender at the Blue Lagoon, a colorful bit of Caribbean escapism overlooking the Back River, echoed these sentiments. She said the "shit plant"--apparently the colloquial term for the place--actually benefits her tavern, as the plant's workers often take their happy hour there. (And, she says, regale her with giggly slogans suggested by their daily toil: "Your number twos are our number one priority"; "When you flush, think of us.") I myself strolled along the banks of the mighty Back River without detecting so much as an unwanted whiff. (I did get a nostril-load during an earlier stop at the Public Works Museum at Eastern Avenue and President Street, housed in an ornate vintage pumping station that sends 22 million gallons of used toilet water eastward to Essex every day.)

"So what else stinks around here? Many things, I'm sure. Friends and co-workers sent me out on nose-to-the-ground treks to all corners of city seeking odd smells. But as I've learned, atmospherics and timing have a lot to do with whether a certain area smells or not. A lot of folks told me the harbor itself reeks, but the last time I covered the waterfront by boat, whatever odors the gray-green waters were giving off were masked by South Baltimore's twin gifts to the city: the molasses-y discharges from the Domino Sugar plant and the rich aroma of coffee from the Pfefferkorn roastery. There are seasonal smells as well, such as the distinct, uh, masculine aroma that cloaks the city each summer when the weedy Ailanthus altissima trees are in bloom. "