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What caused that ‘burning garbage’ smell recently?

Pressley Baird

Q. I live in Wilmington in the Wrightsville Beach area. Recently the odor in the area smelled like burning garbage … not a sweet smell, by a strong acrid odor. The wind was coming off the ocean, which makes no sense at all! Could this have been caused by 4-Mercapto-4-methylpentan-2-one as discussed in your previous article?

A. Complaints of a burnt garbage smell aren’t uncommon in the Wilmington area, said Brad Newland, Wilmington regional supervisor for the N.C. Division of Air Quality. But it’s likely not related to the 4-Mercapto-4-methylpentan-2-one – or cat urine – odor.

“That’s a very pronounced, recognizable odor,” Newland said. “I’ve never heard it described as burning garbage.”

Instead, Newland said, it might actually be burning garbage. A lot of people still burn their household garbage, Newland said, and his agency often gets calls about it.

A burnt garbage smell in early July could also be associated with Fourth of July celebrations on Masonboro Island, Newland said.

“Some people could have been camped out over there, and they could have been burning their refuse in their campfires,” he said.

The Division of Air Quality didn’t receive any calls at all about an odor during the Independence Day weekend, Newland said. That’s often the way his agency learns about problems. He stressed that anyone who had an odor or air pollution-related issue should call the Division of Air Quality.

“Getting a timely complaint helps us to determine what the source of it is and whether there’s any kind of malfunctions,” he said.

To report an issue, call (910) 796-7215 and ask for the Division of Air Quality.


What causes an odor like cat urine that is sometimes in the air around here?

Why does the intersection of North Kerr Avenue and Grathwol Drive smell like raw sewage?

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