Mystery stench overwhelms Barcelona

Fertilizer being blamed for bad smell that overpowered the city, but no one is completely sure

Barcelona was overpowered by a terrible smell on Wednesday.
Barcelona was overpowered by a terrible smell on Wednesday.Massimiliano Minocri

Residents, waiters, tourists and even garbage collectors in Barcelona were stopping to check the soles of their shoes on Wednesday, thinking they might have stepped in a pile of dog mess.

But no. The powerful stench that overwhelmed the Catalan capital that afternoon was apparently caused by fertilizer.

Local citizen safety authorities reported that the smell from work being carried out in a nearby natural protected area, the Bajo Llobregat Agricultural Park, had been driven north to the city by propitious weather conditions.

People variously described the smell as “the countryside,” “rotten cheese,” “animal crap,” “fertilizer” and “balls of rotten grass”

But park director Raimon Roda questioned this theory, saying on national radio that he doubted that fertilizer spread over a four-hectare area of land could stink out an entire city.

But the department of land and sustainability affairs said on Thursday that after checking that the smell had not come from industrial activities or waste-treatment plants, the fertilizer theory had been adopted as the most likely.

“We cannot say it with 100 percent certainty, but everything seems to indicate that the bad smell came from fields in El Prat,” said department sources. “The wind blowing south to north leads us to believe that this was the cause, but we cannot be completely sure.”

In any event, the case has been closed.

Balls of rotten grass?

The bad smell spread all the way from El Prat de Llobregat to the city of Badalona, 10 kilometers outside Barcelona. In between, it also stank out the Catalan capital’s Gran Via, and its Sants, Eixample, Ciutat Vella, Paseo de Gràcia, Diagonal, Guinardó and Nou Barris neighborhoods.

And as quickly as the odor wafted through the air, news of it spread on social media, spawning all kinds of jokes and theories.

People variously described the smell as “the countryside,” “rotten cheese,” “animal crap,” “fertilizer” and “balls of rotten grass,” among others.

Fields around the Llobregat river in Catalonia.
Fields around the Llobregat river in Catalonia.Carles Ribas

The 112 emergency hotline registered 65 calls from concerned citizens, while city officials raced to determine the origin of the smell. Sewers were checked, and the Port Authority confirmed that the docks were not to blame, either.

By 3.30pm the stink had permeated every corner of Barcelona, from schoolrooms to City Hall.

Even the garbage collectors in Sant Jaume square could hardly believe their noses. “Now let me tell you we’re used to a lot, but what’s going on today, I’ve never seen – I mean smelled – before,” said Francisco José, wearing a bright green and yellow uniform.

“Could this be a new kind of terrorism?” wondered a woman named Verónica as she walked in downtown Barcelona.

Another woman, Francesca, stepped out of a taxi on her way from nearby Sant Climent de Llobregat and exclaimed: “Good lord, I’m used to the smells of the countryside, but I’ve never smelled anything like this.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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