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what the heck is that smell in the air today

Original post made by Shannon on Apr 7, 2007

was there a fire this morning? the air seems smoggy and there's a horrible burning plastic smell outside.

Comments (22)

Posted by midtown/pv neighbor, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 7, 2007 at 12:54 pm

I've heard it is a fire at a metal scrap yard in RWC. Logged on here for verification. . . still looking.


Posted by midtown/pv neighbor, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 7, 2007 at 12:57 pm

Just verified it here:
Web Link


Posted by Parent, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 7, 2007 at 1:04 pm

Should we be concerned about breathing outside?


Posted by Lynn, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2007 at 1:20 pm

Thankyou for the verification. It's really awful:((


Posted by Michael Mora, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2007 at 2:18 pm

The scrap yard fire in Redwood City today is a potent and toxic reminder that the air we breathe is not a local resource, its a planetary resource. We are all responsible for and vulnerable to our actions that effect air quality including what we drive, what we burn and what we consume.
I was make ill by the fumes and smell. Burning auto scrap has an incomprehensible mix of dioxin producing products of combustion. I feel very vulnerable in a complex urban environment at times like this. I feel compelled to demand better policing of potential pollution sources like chemical plants, paint manufacturers, scrap heaps, SUV's, construction diesel engines, etc.


Posted by Phil Lanthrop, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 7, 2007 at 2:55 pm

Whiskey bottles,
brand new car
oak tree in my way
to much coke
to much smoke
another drink fool would drown you
Oooh oooh that smell
can't ya smell that smell
that smell thats around you...


Posted by Mary, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 7, 2007 at 4:39 pm

The following was posted on the Duvenck/St. Francis mail serv this afternoon. The Baylands Park was closed due to the smoke which was termed "toxic. People in RWC, Atherton, EPA, and Menloi Park were warned to stay inside especially asthmatics, the elderly, and others with lung and cardiac problems. Last I saw it, the PA Muni golf course was open. ====================================================== Scrap Yard Fire Sends up Thick Smoke REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KCBS) -- A fire burning at a scrap metal yard in Redwood City is sending up toxic smoke according to Menlo Park Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman. Schapelhouman advises anyone in Redwood City, Menlo Park, Atherton or East Palo Alto who smells the smoke to go indoors and shut the windows and doors until the smoke passes. Weather conditions are causing the cloud of smoke to spread and shift in direction. The single alarm fire broke out just after 8 a.m. at the facility in the 600 block of Seaport Boulevard and is expected to burn for hours into the afternoon. "The fire's burning in a big mound of salvage. This is a facility that salvages metal and stuff out of vehicles mostly and there's big mountains of material on site and there is a fire inside of one of the big mountains. We're working with the folks on scene here at the facility to move the pile away so we can apply water and foam to extinguish the fire," said Fire Captain Bruce Meisenbach. __._,_.___


Posted by Kathy, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 7, 2007 at 9:46 pm

My family was not warned via any public means that I heard to stay inside, and yet this story at the Mercury News

Web Link

...claimed that residents of Palo Alto WERE warned.

Did anyone else receive a warning? If so, in what format?


Posted by litebug, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 8, 2007 at 12:06 am

I may be wrong but I think that what Phil posted ("ooh that smell") is an old (70's?) song lyric. I can't remember the name of the group but I think it was one of those Southern rock groups, possibly Lynyrd Skynyrd, or another of that genre. So much for your nasty, uninformed reply to Phil, Mr/Ms/Miss "Oooh La La"!

On a more serious note, we got a lot of very bad smelling smoke here near 101 but, unlike residents in nearby communities, we got NO warnings of any kind. I subscribe to the EDIS email bulletins and regularly get their warning emails when there are toxic releases from the refineries, etc. but nothing came from them either. When I first saw and smelled the smoke I logged on here at P.A. Online but found nothing. There was nothing on the local TV stations. Finally my husband called 911, which may or may not have been the proper thing to do. He was told there was a fire in Redwood City but wasn't told the smoke could be toxic or what precautions to take. In other words, we were once again completely on our own, just as we were in the flood of '98. Once again we got no phone warning, same as on 12/31/05 when we came within a few inches of flooding again. Once again the "powers that be" in Palo Alto have let us down...not provided important information in a timely manner, in a situation involving public safety. I've abandoned hope of any improvement.


Posted by Biteme, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 8, 2007 at 10:03 am

Why would anyone need to be told that kind of thick, stinky haze was toxic? It was obvious! Sure I wanted to know what was going on; but I'm smart enough to figure out the obvious on my own. Lump this together with unnecessary SUVs, global warming, and the rest, we're killing this planet and have only ourselves to blame.


Posted by Phil Lanthrop, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 8, 2007 at 10:04 am

Hey neighbors.....
thought that most of you would know that those were song lyrics from a southern rock band that was quite well known....thanks for coming to my assistance neighbors.....no offense intended there....oooh la anger........ease up.....look for some eggs.......is it safe to come outsdie now?


Posted by Mary, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 8, 2007 at 10:33 am

The telephone warning system in Palo Alto had 'signficant' problems - again. Fixinig it or getting a better one should be a #1 $$$$ priority.


Posted by Phil Lanthrop, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 8, 2007 at 10:48 am

Mary, how is it supposed to work? What was the problem?


Posted by litebug, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 8, 2007 at 10:57 am

Re "Biteme": Of COURSE it was immediately evident that the smoke was vile and nasty and one shouldn't be breathing it. But the actual kind and level of toxicity cannot be detected merely by odor and appearance by a lay person and the proper response would be defined by kind and amount. For example: Should we merely stay inside or should we plug up our fireplace opening and duct tape around the doors? Should we stay inside until given an "all clear" notice or just until things appear to be back to normal?


Posted by Phil Lanthrop, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 8, 2007 at 11:05 am

What i heard is that they tell people to stay inside in these types of cases, but that is really not the best thing to do....but what else can they say to the masses....ideally people should leave the area and seek fresh air to breathe.....although not everyone can do so....and this could create some larger problems....such as traffic and panic....but staying couped up in your home is really not the best thing to do....homes are not impenetrable to this stuff.....and to kid yourself that it is is simply mistaken.....


Posted by Anonymous Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 8, 2007 at 12:58 pm

So, I received an email from Palo Alto Online E-Bulletins at 10:46 PM last night, warning me to stay inside, close my windows, and not run my air conditioner. In the body of that note, it said the email was sent at 2:16 PM, so there's another system that perhaps did not work as designed or intended.

I am extremely concerned that there was no apparent communication between Redwood City Fire and the rest of the Peninsula so that warnings could have been given on a more timely basis. Redwood City news reports cite a plume of smoke by 11:00 AM, yet no warnings came to us that I saw. The Palo Alto police knew nothing at 11:30 AM, as I called to ask them about it at that time.

This event seems almost as badly managed as the way the Feds handled NOLA, albeit (thankfully) on a much smaller scale (and I do not mean to in any way lessen the horrors that folks are STILL experiencing in New Orleans by that comparison). Seems like almost everything that could have been mishandled, WAS, from the first call to Redwood City Fire at 8 AM, to the second alarm not being issued until noon, to no warnings whatsoever sent to residents by ANYONE, for whatever reason or reasons.

What if, heaven forbid, this had been a radioactive cloud? What if this was something larger scale? If this smaller toxic event was handled so poorly, what assurance do we have that things will be handled better when our safety is even more at risk?

In my opinion, we need a full accounting and accountability about why we got no messages and what's needed in the future to ensure timely message delivery when toxins are incoming in Palo Alto air. (And the same would be true for any other community--I'm only writing of Palo Alto since that's where we are.)

I look forward to the Weekly investigating this matter thoroughly.


Posted by Kate, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 8, 2007 at 4:38 pm

I know that Redwood City, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto received warnings to stay inside early in the day, but not Palo Alto. I never received any warning at all. It's nice to see that our emergency response system works so well.


Posted by Mary, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 8, 2007 at 4:48 pm

Phil, evidentliy the teleminder automatic telephone callng system "didn't work" - again.


Posted by Biteme, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 9, 2007 at 5:41 am

I need to get to work, but I have yet to be told it is safe to come outside, can anyone tell me if I can come out of the house yet? And can anyone help me to sue the jerk that owns this scrapyard?


Posted by litebug, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2007 at 12:38 am

It isn't safe for you to come out yet, Biteme. Just stay inside, keep warm and quiet, avoid the computer, and we'll call you when it's OK. Stand by...


Posted by litebug, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2007 at 12:01 pm

The article about the failure of the phone notification system says:
"To get the word out, staff did inform KZSU, requesting updates every 30 minutes...". Neither my husband nor I recall ever hearing that KZSU is the "official" radio station for Palo Alto emergency information. I went to the City's website, did a search on KZSU, and got nothing. I also browsed some of the emergency info and did another search on "radio", also with no result.

Radio should be a very quick way to notify people of local situations but if one hasn't been told which station has this information it is of little use. We never listen to KZSU and will have to look up where it is on the "dial". I think this should be clarified by the City. A person should be able to quickly find which radio station to turn to for local emergency information. It should be posted on the City's site. If it's there now, I couldn't find it and I'd be spending far less time trying in an actual emergency.

One of the unfortunate aspects of media consolidation and increasing automation of commercial radio stations is that we are losing a very important means of quick communication via radio in local emergency situations. More and more stations run without any humans being present so they are no longer capable of playing the vital role they once did in being the first to keep people informed. I remember how people used the radio stations to trade information and locate relatives in the '89 quake. Such a thing would be far less likely today but many people are unaware of this change for the worse. And do we have any other kind of change these days, one might ask? But that is a topic for another discussion.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 10, 2007 at 12:31 pm

I still from time to time hear on radio and TV "this is a test of the emergency broadcast system, this is only a test." Other than the 1989 earthquake and a few instances when heavy rains have created dangerous conditions in Napa, I honestly do not recall ever hearing the emergency broadcast system being actually used for anything other than "a test, only a test."

I believe I have my history right when I say that this system was part of the cold war effort way back when, but the basic concept still seems "sound." (pardon the pun) Perhaps I am naive to think that since it still gets "tested" every week or so by radio and TV stations I listen to, it might have utility for such things as what transpired with the Redwood City fire last weekend.

All well and good that we are soon to be getting an upgrade/replacement to what clearly is a broken phone alert system, but what about this emergency broadcast system that all radio and TV stations supposedly are required to support? It seems to have failed its test this past weekend when the nature of the emergency seemed to be a perfect example of putting it to appropriate use.


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