We now have an idea of what's causing the "outhouse" smell in False Creek

Jun 8 2023, 8:18 pm

Vancouver residents put off by the look and fragrance of the water in False Creek may have sea foam to blame.

Last week, Nick Luca, a worker at The Arts Club Theatre Company, told Daily Hive that he felt “absolutely disgusted and embarrassed” about the water in False Creek lately.

“At almost anytime or any day, there is a disgusting ‘film’ in the water,” said Luca. “Not only is the water brown, like a diarrhea swimming pool, but the stench is so overpowering… Not a great first impression when walking into Granville Island, taking that iconic picture with the bridge sign in the background, and pinching your nose,” he said.

Who is responsible for monitoring the water in False Creek?

Daily Hive reached Granville Island and an information officer said the water in False Creek is monitored by the Port of Vancouver. The Port of Vancouver said that this is out of its jurisdiction.

Vancouver Coastal Health, which monitors water quality in key areas in the city, said that False Creek is monitored by Metro Vancouver.

Metro Vancouver has an extensive environmental water quality testing program which includes three locations in False Creek. Its role is to sample and test the water. Results are sent to health authorities.

But the City of Vancouver’s environment team did have a preliminary idea that may help explain the situation on the water.

What’s making the water at False Creek dirty?

sea foam

Sea foam at Granville Island, most likely.

Staff on the City’s environment team said that based on its characteristics, the culprit for the stench is “mostly likely sea foam.”

“Sea foam occurs along many coastlines and is a common occurrence in False Creek,” said the City. “Sea foam generally forms during warmer weather and results from the accumulation of dissolved organic matter, including dead algae particulates, that moves onto shorelines.”

Sea foam can smell bad, too, because of decomposing material, and brown discolouration is “often sand or silt trapped in the foam.”

The science of sea foam

Concern over what we see in the water isn’t unique to Vancouver. According to a scientific literature review of sea foam, the public “exhibits considerable interest in foams and usually associates them with detergents or some form of pollution (Mills et al., 1996, Pojasek and Zajicek, 1978.)”

Also, a psychological investigation showed that the public associates sea foam with pollution, resulting in a “reduced preference to use the water for recreational purposes or as drinking water sources (Wilson et al., 1995.)”

“Certainly, the visibility of foam addresses the ecological ‘conscience’ of people more than ‘hidden’ chemical pollution,” reads the review

“In fact, foam is not necessarily associated with pollution, but can occur naturally in very pristine environments, eg — humic waters from rainforests.”

Is it really sea foam?

That explanation doesn’t satisfy Luca. “As for the smell… sure it’s organic matter – human waste is organic! I know the difference between seaweed (and) algae decomp as compared to feces,” said Luca.

“It smells like a port-a-potty after a three-day music festival. It’s absolutely embarrassing that the City won’t own up to the fact it’s completely polluted because they have no clue how to clean it,” said Luca.

So, if you notice a film or stench on the water in False Creek, it’s likely sea foam and it’s still not clear whether or not there’s anything that can be done about it.

Daily Hive has reached out to Metro Vancouver on the ongoing tests and will update this story.

Sarah AndersonSarah Anderson

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