CHARLOTTE, NC (Mark Price/The Charlotte Observer) - Complaints have circulated for years that Wilmington smells a lot like cat urine, and the state of North Carolina is finally ready to confirm it's not imaginary.
The N.C. Division of Air Quality has received "several complaints about a cat urine-like odor" around Wilmington and it is investigating the cause...or causes.
Brad Newland, a supervisor with the N.C. Division of Air Quality, issued a memo on Dec. 5 admitting even he has detected a "faint cat odor" in downtown Wilmington.
"I know that the catty odors have impacted downtown from time to time, and in my personal experience, the odor seems to vary," he told the Wilmington Star-News. "Sometimes it smells like pure cat urine to me, and sometimes it smells similar but different."
State officials thought they found the source a few weeks ago, but not anymore: "Initially, Fortron Industries was the sole suspect of the odors as its emissions are associated with the 'male cat pee' odor. However, based on observations made in the community and inquiries with several industries, it is now believed that the odors could have come from a combination of sources."
In other words, they're stumped.
One thing they do believe, however, is that cold air can making matters worst, because the colder, more dense air traps odors and pollution near the ground.
Complaints about the smell have appeared on social media for years, including a lot of guessing as to the origin. Some say it's illegal manufacturing done under the cover of darkness while others swear it's because of naturally occurring swamp gas and/or decaying vegetation.
"I do not know the origin, but have smelled the same odor myself for many years," said an email from Woody White, chair of the New Hanover County Commissioners.
"You can smell it in Wrightsboro," posted Laurene Rapoza on Facebook. "It gets so bad that I have to turn my heat/AC off so my entire house doesn't smell like cat urine. It's horrible!"
"My family smelled the ammonia smell passing by in a vehicle on Thanksgiving," wrote Kimberly Surles Strickland on Facebook. "It felt like my sinuses were on fire, just awful!"
Sue Newell Almeter of Leland said in a Facebook post that she has smelled it since the late 1980s and believes it doesn't come from a single source. "The pungent odor is a concoction that can include swamp gas and fumes from a number of industrial plants along the Cape Fear River," she wrote.
Steve Curre of Kure Beach launched a Facebook campaign last month to push state officials into an investigation. It's not known whether that prompted the Division of Air Quality to take action, however.
"If you live near downtown Wilmington, you probably woke up to the chemical smell that smells similar to cat urine this Saturday morning," he posted on Facebook. "As a New Hanover County citizen, I want to know what this chemical smell is, where it is coming from, and whether there are any potential health effects."