"(I) drove around the tarsands in my electric car viewing and experiencing this unbelievable smell and toxicity in my throat — my eyes were burning," he recalled. "That started 25 miles away from the tarsands. When I was in Fort Mac, it got more intense. My son, who has cerebral palsy, has lung damage, (so) he was wearing a mask to keep the toxic things in the air out of his lungs and make it easy for him to have lungs after he left."
A number of folks, both within the media and outside of it, took umbrage at these words. Some suggested Neil had spoken falsely. Colby Cosh (@colbycosh) for example:
A few locals still refer to the industrial stink that occasionally blows down into Fort McMurray as the smell of money. But for visitors and those not directly employed in the mines, the smell is more akin to hot garbage on a tire fire.
Now, the author of these words works for a men's mag, and Colby felt he was too effete-y elite-y to be trusted when it comes to industrial smells.
@Bigcitylib2 @dstaples Tell me more about what it's like in Ft. McMurray! You seem to know a lot about it from reading "men's magazines".
— Colby Cosh (@colbycosh) January 15, 2014
OK. So here's from some local inhabitants:
Okay, is it me, or does anybody else smell that kind of "dump smell" in the air here in Thickwood and Timberlea. My husband says it is from the oil mines. To me, it smells like the garbage dump. It is disgusting! If it is coming from the oil mines, then we are really in Fort McMoney, Oilberta and that is the smell of money (kaching!)
From another visitor:
I did not like the smell when we got close to the mining operations and processing sites - it would take a while to get used to. It is probably not too good for the health, but I have not done the research, or lived there long enough to find out.
From the Alberta Lung Society:
The main concern related to oil sands development with regards to air quality is from hydrogen sulphide gas: H2S(g). H2S(g) has a very distinctive odour, of rotten eggs, however the gas can quickly paralyze one’s sense of smell. If you do encounter the smell, this should serve as a warning to evacuate the area immediately and seek respiratory protection if possible.
H2S(g) is often found at high levels in the Fort McMurray area and other oil sands sites. Exposure to H2S(g) leads to similar health effects suffered from carbon monoxide poisoning such as: dizziness, headaches, difficulty breathing and eventually death.
Although, here is a bit of good news, I suppose:
What sparked my attention was that I started noticing every guy in Fort McMurray smelled amazing. How could all the guys in this town smell soooooo good? I mean really, with all the dirty jobs out there at least one of them had to be a stinky dude. But no I couldn’t find one stinky guy.
The residents are resiliant, and have found a way to cope.
In any case, the point isn't to pick on Fort McMurray. At least not entirely. The point is that Neil's observation seems backed up by a fair bit of evidence. It smells pretty much like he says it does (at least when the wind is blowing right). And while we may be entitled to our own opinions re Fort Mc and the tar-sands, we are not entitled to our own facts.