Town tortured by stench of fermenting seafood wafting from abandoned factory

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — A Newfoundland town is being tormented by the unbearable smell of seafood sauce left to ferment in large vats when a factory was abandoned more than a decade ago.

The owner abandoned the Atlantic Seafood Sauce Company Ltd. plant in St. Mary's, N.L., after extended legal battles over food safety complaints.

article continues below

Much of the sauce was never bottled or sold, and the mixture of capelin, herring, water and salt has been fermenting in the 147 vats since.

"It's started to become unbearable ... such a foul odour," Deputy Mayor Steve Ryan said in an interview.

Each container can hold about 12,500 litres of sauce, which has largely solidified in the tanks and leaked onto the floor over the years.

Ryan said the drains were filled with concrete during a cleanup attempt two years ago and since then the liquid has been pooling on the floor, making the stench unbearable.

Ryan has been inside the derelict plant and said the putrid stench is impossible to describe.

"I can't explain it," Ryan said.

"If you were coming to go into this, I'd recommend that you don't. I'd recommend that you bring two pairs of clothes. I'd recommend that you come in with a vehicle you don't want to drive no more. Stuff like that."

A playground and school are within a half-kilometre, Ryan said, and some residents live just a few hundred feet away.

Many in the small community of less 400 people near the southwestern tip of Newfoundland feel the decaying plant is a health hazard.

Ryan said he's been unable to obtain results from tests done on the site, but said he was shaken when one potential contractor noted the place was surprisingly free of rodents — a sign the fermented waste may not be safe.

An email from the province's department of municipal affairs and environment said Atlantic Seafood Sauce was dissolved by the federal government in 2006 due to non-compliance.

The province tried to contact the company in 2012 after complaints about the building, which first opened in the early 1990s, but could not locate the last known director or a representative.

The province also confirmed that a contractor was ordered to cease "improper discharge of liquid waste into the ocean" in 2016 following investigations by federal and provincial officials. No work has been done at the site since then.

With the former proprietor missing in action, Ryan said the responsibility of cleaning up the mess has become a "hot potato" and it's left behind a bill the small town cannot afford to foot on its own.

St. Mary's is now asking for help to cover the cleanup costs.

Because the sauce has solidified, the task will involve liquefying the substance and trucking it out of the community for disposal, making the process more costly -- estimated to be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"We haven't got the know-how or the money to tackle a project like this," Ryan said.

The town has a contractor willing to do the work once money is available, he said.

The provincial government is reviewing an application for a cost-sharing program, but Ryan said the town needs help to pay for its share of the cleanup.

Ryan said provincial officials have been sympathetic and accommodating but are limited in the funding they can offer, and he hopes the federal government can help with the town's share.

Until funding is sorted out, St. Mary's residents will have to hold their breath for a resolution -- especially as the smell intensifies in the warm summer months.

"We'd love to be able to cut the ribbon of the last load of stuff to go out of there," Ryan said.

© Copyright Weyburn Review