Why Does San Francisco Smell Like Sulfur?

The streets of San Francisco are used to weird smells. However, on Wednesday morning, a mysterious rotten-egg and sulfur-like odor that baffled city and federal agencies and prompted dozens of phone calls of complaint.

According to SFist, at least 50 San Franciscans began contacting officials around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning complaining of the smell. The unpleasant scent had reportedly dissipated by 7 a.m. and was gone by 9 a.m.

According to KQED, the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) received over 30 calls. KQED said the SFFD’s spokesman, Jonathan Baxter, reported that the callers described the odor as “rotten eggs or sulfur,” and noted that the calls initially came from the downtown area and then moved toward the Marina, Sunset and Richmond neighborhoods. SFist said complaints also poured in from Bayview, the Tenderloin, Nob Hill, the Marina, SoMa and the Mission.

Officials with SF Environment, San Francisco Public Works and the city’s Department of Emergency Management, as well as Recology, were reportedly notified, KQED reports.

Investigators were unable to find the source of the smell. KQED notes that the odor did not come from a fuel leak — as none were reported by the U.S. Coast guard — nor did it come from the city’s sewer system. “These sulfur odors are not coming from us,” San Francisco Public Utilities Commission spokesman Charles Sheehan told KQED in an email.

However, Bay Area news station KRON 4 noted that PG&E is looking into the possibility that the smell could have been caused by a series of earthquakes that took place in Lake Tahoe two days ago, which may have caused the ground to shift, releasing a sulfur-like smell into the atmosphere.

One social media users made light of the brief incident:

Others expressed fear that the smell could be nature’s way of warning about the coming “big one“:

SFist reported that Pacific Gas and Electric spokesperson J.D. Guidi said the stink wasn’t “related to PG&E facilities.” However, when asked by SFist “if any PG&E facilities had beans last night, Guidi remained silent.”

Both Baxter and public health department spokeswoman Rachael Kagan reportedly said the smell did not appear to have caused any threat to public safety or health. KRON 4 reported that several people said they were feeling ill due to the smel, but that their symptoms are unknown at this time.

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