A dirty job: Septic man weighs on Edmonton's stinky situation

A dirty job: Septic man weighs on Edmonton's stinky situation

For Martin Dansereau, gagging on the stench of sewer rot is all in a day's work.

The Leduc plumber and septic tank cleaning expert offered up his tenacious snout as a sort of litmus test for the city's new "stink-o-meter" in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

City drainage staff are putting the final touches on a new measuring system to address complaints about what's wafting from the sewer system.

Residents in Ermineskin, Bonnie Doon and West Jasper Place tell city hall they're choking on the vile odours wafting up from the ground.

The city has installed one-way flaps on problem lines, sealed manhole openings, and flushed lines in an attempt to quell the smells, but the pungent problem persists.

'We become desensitized'

Dansereau said when the air from all that moving muck escapes to the street above, it can cause a serious stench, and the aged infrastructure in Edmonton's mature neighbourhoods will make it difficult to quell the fumes.

"The problem with the city system, it's not an easy fix," he said. "Some of the lines are quite taxed, they're getting older, but in my experience, when you're getting smell, it's aeration.

"If it's at a standstill, you almost don't smell anything coming from the sewage. When it's actually on the move and it's being aerated is when you get that off-gassing."

Although the residential complaints are indeed something to turn up your nose at, Dansereau said sewage actually rates pretty low on his personal stinky scale.

"I always laugh because human waste is actually the least stinky of the things that we deal with," he said.

"I'm used to it, so I find it's one of those things where you tweak your nose and say, 'Ewww,' but you're not running away, holding your mouth." 

And he's often holding his mouth. As owner of Magnan Septic Services in Leduc County, he's waded through some of the vilest cesspools known to man.

'It's horrid and it doesn't go away'

From basements flooded with sludge and rotten grease-trap goop, to the liquid remnants of slaughterhouses, he's smelled it all.

But unlike in the 2013 cult classic Septic Man, the constant exposure to raw sewage has not transformed Dansereau into a gruesome mutant.

Instead, it has desensitized him to all kinds of horrible aromas. 

"There are some that are really bad. If you do anything with animal kill trucks, one drop of that and you want to gag, you want to run," he said.

"And we have been where basements have flooded in some restaurant and it's full of grease ... and you get down there and you're ankle deep in grease and it's just horrid."

And then there is something called "scag." It's like kryptonite for even the most seasoned snouts.

"If you're in the petroleum industry there is something we call scag which is a waste product from the gas plants. The best way to describe it is like getting your truck sprayed by a skunk all over," Dansereau said with a chuckle. 

"It's horrid and it doesn't go away. You get one drop on your truck and it stinks for weeks. Oh, it's terrible."

He suggests Edmontonians suffering from sewage stench investigate their own plumbing systems first to ensure their venting systems are working properly, and cut down on water consumption during peak times.

If that doesn't remedy the smell, you can always follow the advice Dansereau gives to the long-suffering rookies on his crew.

"My best word of advice? Work upstream," he said. "Figure out which way the wind direction is going and put yourself in the best possible spot away from the stench.

"Often, a lot of these smells are absolutely out of your control, so you can really only control where you're standing."