There was some odor todayin New York and New Jersey. What caused it? And more importantly what made it go away?
Schools and office buildings were evacuated. A subway station was shut, and commuter trains were rerouted. Government security officials were put on alert. Fire trucks raced through the streets, while Coast Guard vessels patrolled New York Harbor, communicating with tugboats and container ships. Twelve people with complaints of minor illnesses or injuries were taken to hospitals.
The source of the odor? As of last night, city officials still did not know. But it lingered for an hour after first being reported around 9 a.m., leaving New York with another mystery on its hands and more than a few conspiracy theories to sort through.
With anxieties about gas leaks rattling the nerves of the city, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg held a press conference to assure residents that the city’s air-quality detectors had found no cause for alarm. He hypothesized that the odor could have been caused by the release of mercaptan, a compound that smells like rotting eggs and is added to natural gas so people can detect and report leaks.
Throughout the day, possible culprits — among them a minor gas leak in Greenwich Village and natural-gas pipelines in northeastern New Jersey — were considered and ruled out.
The olfactory mystery in the New York region was matched by strange activity elsewhere. In Austin, Tex., police cordoned off 10 blocks of the downtown business district early yesterday after more than 60 birds were found dead overnight along Congress Avenue, which leads to the State Capitol. Air testing there failed to find a cause, but preliminary results determined that people were not at risk.
Meanwhile there was something in the air of Austin.. where many birds have died.. actually over 60 of them!
Police shut down 10 blocks in downtown Austin for several hours Monday after 63 birds were found dead in the street, but officials said preliminary tests found no threat to people.
Workers in yellow hazardous-materials suits tested for contaminants in a cordoned-off section near the state Capitol and the governor’s mansion before authorities finally gave the all-clear in the afternoon.
Although officials could not immediately determine whether poison or something else killed the birds, “there’s no threat to humans at this point,” said Assistant City Manager Michael McDonald.
The dead grackles, sparrows and pigeons will be tested.
Some experts said the most likely cause of the die-off was a deliberate poisoning. “It happens quite frequently,” said Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation at the National Audubon Society in Washington.
Grackles are a crowlike bird regarded as a major pest in Texas, with Austin sidewalks sometimes covered in their droppings.
The dead birds were found overnight along Congress Avenue, a major downtown thoroughfare. Police closed the route through downtown and two side streets, and a staging area was set up near the Capitol, with dozens of fire trucks, police cars and ambulances.
The Capitol opened on schedule, however. And the governor was not asked to leave the mansion.
Dr. Adolfo Valadez, medical director for the Austin and Travis County Health and Human Services Division, said the birds will be tested for signs of poison or viral infections. But officials do not believe bird flu is involved.