Residents are fed up with the smells that ‘smell like sewers’ in King and Strachan

People who live near the intersection of King Street West and Strachan Avenue describe the smell in many ways and none of them are pleasant.

“It smells like sewage,” said Ann Riness, who lives a block east in the neighborhood west of downtown Toronto. Riness has lived in the area for 20 years and says the smell surfaced at least a year ago.

“It’s really hard living here. You have to keep your windows closed on bad days,” Riness said. “It smells in the house, it smells outside.”

She says she has repeatedly complained to the City of Toronto, but the issue has yet to be resolved.

Another local compares the smell to rotten eggs and sulfur, while others liberally use the word “poo” to describe the aroma that wafts around the intersection.

Jason Tetro, a microbiologist, says sewage creates pathogenic chemicals in the air that could make someone sick. (Courtesy of Jason Tetro)

Jason Tetro, a microbiologist who has studied pathogens in sewage at the University of Ottawa, says there’s no doubt where the stench originated.

“It’s definitely the sewage that’s accumulating,” said Tetro, who is also the best-selling author of The germ code and Germinal files.

He says the big problem is that the sewage creates pathogenic chemicals in the air that could make someone sick.

“In every sense of the word, wastewater is one of the most problematic substances when it comes to health,” he said.

“It could make you sick, it could make you nauseous, it could give you headaches.”

A vent pipe sits just north of the intersection with plastic bags covering its openings. (Patrick Swadden)

Tetro suggests that until the problem is resolved, city workers should check the air quality for toxins.

“I really think it’s incumbent on the City of Toronto to go there to make sure the levels are within acceptable limits or, if they’re not, to put in place mitigation measures.”

The city told CBC Toronto in a written statement that the intersection of King and Strachan is above the Western Beaches Tunnel, which was designed to help reduce the release of untreated stormwater and combined sewer overflows ( CSO) in Lake Ontario.

“The sewers and associated chambers at the corner of King and Strachan are very large main sewers that move a large volume of sewage and push air out as it flows,” said William Shea, director of distribution and collection of Toronto Water.

“Air must be vented from the system to reduce pressure buildup. As such, these sewers will always have an odor associated with them winter or summer.”

Tetro says there’s a pumping station under the intersection, which means there’s naturally a lot of sewage accumulation in the area.

“From what I’ve read, it looks like one or more of the pumps aren’t working,” Tetro said.

The City of Toronto says the intersection of King and Strachan is above the Western Beaches Tunnel, which is designed to help reduce the release of untreated stormwater and combined sewer overflows (CSOs) into the Lake Ontario. (City of Toronto)

Tetro says he is referring to a city document that shows maintenance of the Western Beaches Tunnel (WBT). The city launched a two-phase project, the first of which involved modifying 19 sewer chambers to “improve lake and sewer insulation systems.” The second phase provided for a “complete refurbishment of the pumping station and modifications to the WBT pumping”.

Shea only confirmed to CBC Toronto that the first phase was complete.

A couple begins to “guess” living in the area

Claire Thomas, who has lived on Strachan Avenue for 15 years, says the problem continues to get worse.

“He seeps into the house for sure,” she said.

Some locals say the smell encourages them to stay in the area.

“We rent, but we want to buy in the neighborhood,” said Chris Hughes, who lives with his partner Lauren Smith a few blocks away. However, he says they are now questioning that choice.

“We are starting to guess if we really want to continue living here.”

CBC Toronto contacted the 12 candidates for council in Ward 10, Spadina-Fort York, where the intersection is located

Six of the 12 responded, saying they were aware of the problem. Joe Mihevc, the current councilor who was appointed to replace Joe Cressy and who is not running in the municipal elections, did not respond.

Riness says the issue could potentially sway his vote in this election.

“If a politician said he could fix the problem and got on with it, I’d vote for him in an instant, but I don’t know any politician who is looking at the problem,” she said.

“It’s going to move some of us out if we can’t fix it.”

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