The Tacoma Aroma

You’re driving southbound on the Interstate 5. You come around the corner and your eyes meet this big abomination of an arena: the Tacoma Dome. The smell of rotten eggs wafts through the AC vents in your car, getting stronger as you approach Tacoma. Where does this smell come from? Why is it so strong on this particular stretch of I5? In this article I’ll investigate who is responsible for the smell, also where exactly it’s coming from.

The bad odor is produced by paper mills, and can include chemicals such as chloroform, sulfur, and ammonia. An article dating back to 1988 labeled Commencement Bay one of the most polluted bodies of water in the country. While the pollution of the bay definitely contributes to the smell, one particular plant to point fingers at is the Westrock paper mill, located on the Puyallup Waterway. Majority of the “aroma” comes from this plant alone, and to top that, their NOx emissions have increased to over 700 tons per year.

Port Townsend in Jefferson county, has a similar problem. The Port Townsend Paper Corporation is responsible for the economic growth in this small town. But the tradeoff for this growth is the notorious stench that stems from paper mills. Some residents of Port Townsend, particularly natives, say that they don’t mind the smell, as it reminds them of what’s keeping the small town afloat. Others can’t stand the smell.

So next time you’re driving south through Tacoma, turn off your AC and shut your windows, because things are about to get stinky.

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