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What’s That Smell? Unexplained and Mysterious Odors Appear Around the World

What’s that smell? While that’s a question typically best left unasked, several seemingly unconnected events around the world in the last week have people asking just that. Are these a signal that a mysterious, malodorous Fortean phenomenon is wafting across the globe?

It’s doubtful – although so many mystery smell stories in just a few weeks is pretty coincidental. The first foul fetor came forth in Florida in February. According to local NBC affiliate NBC-2, one family has spent months and thousands of dollars attempting to identify a mysterious and repulsive chemical smell, the epicenter of which seems to be their backyard. “I’m concerned about many people because if we smell it and it’s affecting us, I’m sure it’s affecting other people,” Barbara Warnock told NBC-2. “One, we’d like to know what the source is so we can combat it. The other side is if it’s serious, we need to know about it ahead of time.” So far, no government agencies have been able to help the Warnock household.

Plague doctors would stuff the bird-like noses of their masks with herbs in the belief that foul smells, or miasmas, spread the plague.

Maybe its time to revive the plague mask.

Much farther north in Essex, Vermont, students and staff at Founders Memorial School were disgusted and flummoxed when an “extremely foul odor” filled the school’s playground. Ice and water samples were sent to local environmental laboratories but so far no cause has been found. Curiously, another school in the same school district is reportedly dealing with the same issue.

Along those same stink lines, the Chartiers Valley High School in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania was evacuated last week when a mysterious odor appeared during a fire alarm, or as I would call it, a perfect time to ignite a stink bomb. Still, police and fire officials took the odor seriously enough to send students to other nearby schools while they investigated. No cause was determined.

On the other side of the proverbial pond, residents of the town of Trowbridge in Wiltshire, England have been plagued by an unknown stench that has yet to be identified. The smell has been described as a “stale fish smell” and was immediately suspected to originate from a local food processing plant, but inspections revealed the factory was not the cause. Investigators are still on the case.

Time to pull out the good ol’ Smell Test.

The most high-profile of the recent mystery odors occurred aboard an Alaska Airlines flight from Chicago to Seattle at the end of February. As the flight was in the air over Minnesota, a foul odor filled the cabin and sickened several passengers and crew members. The flight made an unscheduled landing at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport while the smell was investigated. Some nose-witnesses said the smell was similar to burnt plastic, but investigators were unable to determine a cause.

While these stories are typically cases of mild chemical exposure or even natural gas seepage, the fact that so many mysterious smells appeared around the world in the same week is somewhat odd. What made February so frighteningly fetid?