This Town Smells Like Cat Pee and Nobody Knows Why

If you've ever had a cat or visited the home of someone with an incontinent kitty roaming around, then you know the distinct displeasure that is the stench of cat pee. Now, imagine the entire city where you live is caught under a cloud of the foul odor and you'll understand the waking nightmare it can be to get a whiff of the air in Wilmington, North Carolina, where many residents have complained for years about a mysteriously pervasive cat urine stench.

In fact, the problem has gotten so bad in recent weeks that the state government has officially acknowledged the issue. Officials are now organizing an effort to get to the bottom of it once and for all.

For years, residents have filed complaints with the North Carolina Office of Environmental Quality regarding an acrid stench frequently likened to that of cat piss. It's been so bad at times that one woman reports that she has been forced to turn off the heat or air conditioning just to prevent it from coming into her home. One man claimed that he "nearly smothers" himself with a freshly Febreze-d pillow whenever it's overwhelming.

The smell got so bad over Thanksgiving weekend this year that more than a dozen complaints poured in to local officials. A supervisor with the North Carolina Department of Air Quality even drafted an official memo admitting that he could smell a "faint cat odor" in the area, which prompted an investigation that initially traced the smell to an area plastics factory. However, that theory has since been debunked, and the awful aroma's origins remain a mystery. 

According to local media, many believe the source of the smell to be a combination of factors, including both fumes from nearby factories and "swamp gas." Experts also think it's exacerbated when the temp drops and the cooler, denser air traps the smell closer to the ground. And while many are primarily concerned by how the rampant stink affects quality of life, others are troubled by the idea that it might also be dangerous and toxic to humans. 

Officials say they are continuing their search for the offensive odor's origin or origins, and are encouraging locals to call in when they smell it. But until it's all figured out and addressed, it's safe to assume Febreze is selling well in Wilmington. 

h/t The News & Observer

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Joe McGauley is a senior writer for Thrillist. Follow him @jwmcgauley.