Macon-Bibb County emergency crews have determined the cause of a mystery odor, which led dozens to call 911 and some to go to the hospital.
Since early Sunday morning, Maconites have complained of a distinct, pungent smell near downtown. Battalion Chief Donny Mercer says they've pinpointed it to the Graphic Packaging paper mill in South Macon.
The source, but not the odor, had eluded many since the wee hours of the morning.
"It's not so much a septic smell, but it has that after-odor," says Shawn Williams says, who caught a whiff on his way to work around 6 a.m.
Williams says he's smelled it before, but not at that magnitude.
Other travelers downtown say they suspected a paper mill was the cause, but described the odor as having a "sulfur-like" or a "trash" smell to it.
"It's really strong," says Joshua Clowers, who just moved downtown. "Stronger than you could possibly imagine."
Janey Poulnott, spokesperson for the Medical Center of Central Georgia, says the smell found its way into the hospital early Sunday morning--along with 2 people, who came in to the emergency room complaining of feeling ill from the odor.
The hospital, plus dozens of other offended noses, called police, and emergency crews got busy finding the source.
Mercer says they followed their noses Graphic Packaging, which he says is on a list of local companies that frequently emit odors.
"They're undergoing annual maintenance," Mercer says. "When you shutdown and start back up, usually the odor is a little more concentrated than it is at normal peak performance."
Chances are the smell has wafted through town before, he says, but humid weather and winds have magnified its effect.
"The humidity keeps the odor threshold at ground level, and we don't have the heat, like we normally do, that would dissipate a lot of the odors," Mercer says.
Those odors, while potent, he says, are not dangerous, but he does have an explanation for the hospital visits.
"A lot of stuff like this is psychological," he says. "It may not have anything to do with what we smell."
EMA director Donald Druitt says he will follow up with the fire department tomorrow to discuss response plans and procedures regarding local companies' use of hazardous materials.
He says the meeting is not necessarily because Sunday's event involved hazardous chemicals or posed a threat, but because it will provide a springboard for a discussion he already planned to have.