Blame Lower Mainland farms for stinky smell on Monday

The foul smell that spread across Vancouver and several other municipalities Monday was likely from manure being spread on farms in Richmond and Delta, according to Metro Vancouver officials. The odour was blown north into Vancouver by the wind.

Complaints posted on social media came from numerous communities aside from the city of Vancouver, including UBC, Richmond, Ladner, North Vancouver and West Vancouver.

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Metro Vancouver hasn’t tallied up the number or location of complaints lodged through its sources, which include a complaint line and online complaint form, but Ray Robb, its manager of environmental regulation and enforcement, said he expects it will be more than 50 but fewer than 100. Last year, a similar incident that happened around the same time, on May 29 and 30, generated about 150 complaints.

“The majority of what people were smelling is due to spreading manure on farms in Richmond and Delta. We’re still tallying all our complaints, and we haven’t even gotten them into our data base to analyze them, but we had officers out responding to the complaints. We also had officers out doing other business and they were all noticing manure smells,” Robb said.

“A couple of officers that were dealing with the usual composters that we have in Richmond and Delta observed odours from the composters near the composting facilities, but [the cause of the smell] was manure at a further distance.”

Farmers collect manure but they’re not allowed to spread it on their fields except for as a fertilizer, which means they usually need to put it on before the crops are planted.

However, they’re not allowed to put it on wet fields or when it’s raining.

Robb said Monday’s conditions created the perfect storm.

“We have a situation this week where it’s nice and warm and farmers’ pits are probably full of manure and it’s going to rain later this week,” he said. “Last year, when we had 150 complaints, it was the same thing — we had nice warm weather and rain was forecast for the next day. So they get out there and they spread… If there are a lot of sources of it, like a dozen farms spreading, and apparently there were a lot of folks spreading Monday, it doesn’t get diluted and the wind was blowing from the south, which takes it right into Vancouver.”

Robb said technology continues to improve the farming process and he sees gradual transformation happening.

In the past, farmers used large sprinkler systems that sprayed manure into the air, which released odour, ammonia and volatile organic compounds.

That’s considered bad practice these days and it doesn’t happen in Metro Vancouver anymore.

Now, it’s possible to use high-tech machinery that injects manure into the ground so there isn’t as much odour or run off into creeks.

“That’s the ideal solution going to those injection [systems], at least from an air quality perspective, [although] there might be other issues that the farmers have,” Robb said.

While he expects they will move towards that system, at this point, the Ministry of Agriculture advises farmers to apply the manure and till it in right away.

During Monday’s odour incident, some people turned to social media to air their concerns about the smell, but Robb said it’s better if they recorded issues through Metro Vancouver.

“It was only via the media that Metro [Vancouver] heard people experience odours in Vancouver. It was much later in the day that Metro started getting them,” he said.

“In this situation, I don’t know that it makes any difference, but [it’s important] in other situations where we’d like to try and identify the source. With odours, it’s sometimes critical to get out there when the odour is happening versus if there’s an incident, it causes an odour and people complain to each other but don’t let us know.”

Metro Vancouver, Robb said, needs to be able to trace it back to the source to be able to take action.

“When it comes to manure there’s not much that we’re going to be able to do. But other odour sources, yeah, we can do something, sometimes.” 

Metro Vancouver’s complaint line is at 604-436-6777, while the online complaint form can be found here.


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