Fertilizer odor mistook for natural gas in Hershey


HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) — There was a false alarm in Derry Township over the weekend as an odd odor caused several people to call 911.

The Hershey Fire Department received three separate calls, each a half-hour apart Saturday morning, reporting an odor of natural gas. The fire department believes it was fertilizer from a nearby farm.

“They described it as a rotten egg kind of smell, which is very similar to that of natural gas,” said David Sassaman, public information officer for the Hershey Fire Department. “Natural gas, they put an odor irritant in called mercaptan, and mercaptan gives it that very distinct odor that everybody might be used to smelling.”

Sassaman says fire crews and UGI workers didn’t detect any natural gas on Saturday. He says the source of a pungent smell was likely from farmers fertilizing their land and the wind blowing the right way at the right time, carrying the stench further.

“I believe it was milorganite, which is a form of human waste that they compost and use to fertilize fields,” said Emma Rifflard, owner and operator of Hanoverdale Country Store.

Rifflard sells a granular form of milorganite at Hanoverdale Country Store. She suspects people in Hershey were smelling a liquid form of it.

“It will create a volatile odor like any fertilizer, natural fertilizer, whether it be cow, pig,” Rifflard said.

She says it’s usually a short burst of odor only lasting a day or a few days.

“I could definitely tell the difference between the two, but maybe for someone who’s not sure, it’s definitely not a bad thing to call into the fire department and always check,” Rifflard said. “Better to be safe than sorry.”

Sassaman agrees, saying the neighbors did the right thing.

“If you think you smell gas or have a natural gas emergency, particularly in your house, we want you to leave your house, go to a neighbor or safe location, then call 911 and have us come out and check,” Sassaman said.

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