For the last few weeks, East Van has been in the grips of an astoundingly bad smell. I don’t usually consider myself to be very sensitive to bad smells; after all, I am a fisherman’s daughter, and was raised around smells that were fairly robust at the best of times. So when I first caught a whiff of East Van’s newest urban feature, I went out to the alley looking for something dead, intent on tidying up whatever was rotting out there. The smell, though, was everywhere. It wafted across the patios on the Drive. It visited the Trout Lake farmer’s market, where it wasn’t really a crowd-pleaser. It wrapped itself around cyclists, around coffee houses, around arty hipsters. As it doesn’t seem to be leaving, I decided it was worthy of some investigation.
The epic smell is getting some press, and it is generally agreed it is coming from the rendering plant at the foot of Commercial, which is operated by West Coast Rendering. I contacted the city, and they confirmed that it was the likely source. However, I am at least 20 blocks from there, and Trout Lake is closer to 40. At the least hundreds of city blocks are wallowing in the smell of death, and that seems, well, icky.
Rendering is a dirty business, and I am assuming something has gone wrong for the smell to be this bad and this widespread; I certainly haven’t noticed it in previous summers. People closer to the plant certainly have, though, and they want relief. A group of residents has started a facebook page, and in the past has tried to get some sort of action from the city. Smells, however, are not so easy to measure, or control. The city is considering an odor bylaw, which would be welcome. How it will work, though, is unknown.
The people at the city were friendly enough, but they made it clear this isn’t an easy problem to solve, which makes me wonder if we are not perhaps the victims of what geographers call “spatial injustice”; basically I doubt a smell this bad would be tolerated in Kits, or Coal Harbour, or near Gregor Robertson’s house in Point Grey. The city would have crews out with giant incense burners, and would be plotting the removal of the source to some far-flung suburb. I’m not going to blame the rendering plant, as they have a permit, but I am going to question whether we can ever be the “greenest city in the world” if “greenest” only applies for people who live west of the flats. I know people here on the East side only pay a paltry 800K or so for housing, or they (gasp) rent, but we can still vote, and I know a lot of people wandering through the clouds of stink who aren’t feeling the love for city hall right now.
Vancouver needs to fix this. If you are living within the stink zone, the city needs to know. Call 604 436 6777 to complain about air quality. Oh, and pray for rain.