Odor raises a stink in Stonington

By Joe Wojtas
The New London Day • 6/7/2012

Stonington – The stink has returned.

Diving Street resident Geoffrey Little said that for the past several weeks he and his borough neighbors have suffered from irritated throats and eyes and have been awakened by severe headaches, which they attribute to the hydrogen sulfide smell emanating from nearby rotting algae.

That algae has attached itself to large amounts of seaweed that has washed ashore and has also formed a crust atop the shallow water between two jetties at the end of Ash Street, which is one block over from Little’s home. On Wednesday, the small shoreline area with little tidal flushing was thick with seaweed and the slight odor of rotting eggs.

But when the wind blows from the northeast, Little said, he and his family have been forced to flee their home until the smell subsides. They have had to keep their windows closed and move to a front bedroom and at times have been unable to use their outdoor deck. The back of their home overlooks the end of Ash Street.

Little said the problem intensified at about 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, when borough firefighters using a ladder truck sprayed fresh water on the algae. “We had to run out of the house last night, and so did our neighbors next door,” he said. “We had to go down to my office on Cutler Street.”

The problem is not a new one. Borough Warden Paul Burgess said that 20 truckloads of seaweed were removed last summer from the Ash Street area, an action Little said ended the problem for the season. Burgess said the borough is currently looking at possible solutions and has been in contact with the town sanitarian, state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and locally based Clean up Harbors and Sound.

Burgess, First Selectmen Ed Haberek and other town and borough officials are slated to meet with DEEP officials on Monday.

Little, meanwhile, is angry with Burgess and borough officials for not notifying him and his neighbors before firefighters sprayed water on the seaweed Tuesday. “We’re not opposed to action, but we want considered action,” he said.

Little said Burgess told his wife Tuesday night that the borough was also considering putting lime on the algae. “It’s like some bumbling 1950s science fiction movie, where they’re trying to kill the creature,” he said.

Little said the odor is not only a public-health hazard but could decrease property values for homeowners as well. Burgess Ed McCreary, who also lives on Diving Street, has sent an email to Burgess saying he is worried about his tenants leaving because of the smell.

Little said the small area off Ash Street has already become a “dead zone” for fish and waterfowl because of the lack of oxygen.

“This is just a little hot spot here, but this could be the beginning of a bigger problem for the entire town,” Little said. “All we’re asking is for them to talk to experts who have dealt with this kind of thing and see what we can do. This is not a business for amateurs.”

The smell has also been reported on Lords Point and Masons Island, according to Haberek.

Little said some research has found that dumping oyster shells on the algae has helped absorb the odor. He said such a solution would cost several thousands dollars.

“There’s plenty of experts out there to talk to,” said Little, who has been in contact with James Carlton, a marine ecologist who directs the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program at Mystic Seaport. “This is an issue that a lot of communities face that are on the water.”

Little said he plans to commission his own environmental testing of the hydrogen sulfide levels and to contact an environmental attorney in case he needs to take legal action.