What's the weird smell along I-5 in Seattle?
June 11, 2013 6:45 PM   Subscribe

For years I've noticed a weird smell when driving south on I-5 in Seattle, just south of the West Seattle Bridge. It's precisely the smell I've always associated with worn brake pads– since there are a number of small manufacturing businesses along that stretch, I've just assumed one of them was making something stinky. Well, now I live on Beacon Hill a few hundred yards from that spot, and we smell it ALL THE TIME. What is that smell, and could it be a health issue? Thanks!
posted by carterk to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Is it an ozone-y smell? Look for a nearby foundry.
posted by zippy at 7:22 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Coffee? Its smells like nasty burning stuff when it's being roasted.
posted by fiercekitten at 7:43 PM on June 11, 2013

There's a lot of medium-scale industry there: meat processing and metal smelting. I don't think Tully's parent company has them roast coffee in SoDo any longer. While the smells may be unpleasant, I suspect the more substantial health risk is from particulates from diesel and gasoline exhaust from all the I-5 and airport traffic, which is known to elevate lung and other cancer rates in South King County.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:54 PM on June 11, 2013

Response by poster: Hmm– I wouldn't have described it as ozone-y, but Google shows a foundry right there. From their website:

"Since 1972, North Star Casteel has been The Casting Source for manufacturers and end users seeking Strong, Ductile, Heat Resistant, and Wear Resistant ferrous castings.

Offering the highest quality Manganese and Alloy castings, North Star Casteel is the foundry of choice for industry leaders in Transportation, Track Work, Mining and Crushing."

Can anyone weigh in on whether this place could produce the odor I smell (again, worn brake pads).

Sorry to thread-sit.
posted by carterk at 7:57 PM on June 11, 2013

Best answer: I don't have any local ideas for you, but I believe the smell you're smelling is the smell a thermite reaction has, that hot metal oxidation smell.

Here in Chicago we have some train lines that run at ground level right alongside the street. Sometimes the underbits of the train spark, and when you're right up on them, the thermite smell is strong. I also smell it when driving through more industrial parts of the city.

A foundry would definitely give off that smell.

I've noticed that some people (me!) are much more sensitive to that particular smell than others, so your friends may not notice what you notice.
posted by phunniemee at 8:28 PM on June 11, 2013

A comparison smell for you: does it smell like sparklers?
posted by phunniemee at 8:29 PM on June 11, 2013

Can anyone weigh in on whether this place could produce the odor I smell (again, worn brake pads).

If you're a few hundred yards from I-5, perhaps the smell is from the highway traffic? It is often backed up around Beacon Hill and the junction with the West Seattle bridge.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:39 PM on June 11, 2013

Best answer: "North Star Casteel has been The Casting Source ..."

Yeah, it's them.

Berkeley has a foundry that produces a smell similar to what you describe, a smell weird enough it stands out. It blankets the neighborhood for blocks.
posted by zippy at 8:41 PM on June 11, 2013

It used to be that you got a mixture of brewing beer and roasting coffee on Beacon Hill, from the Rainier Brewery and Starbucks' roaster, respectively. But times have changed.
posted by litlnemo at 5:41 AM on June 12, 2013

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