Canadian Town Plagued by Unbearable Smell of 17-Year-Old Seafood Sauce

For the past 17 years, the people of St. Mary’s, a small town in Canada’s Newfoundland, have had to put up with the pungent smell of fermented seafood sauce at an abandoned nearby factory. In the summer, the stench gets so bad that some residents bar their homes and leave to stay with their relative, because it’s so hard to breathe.

In 1990, a Vietnamese immigrant opened the Atlantic Seafood Sauce factory near St. Mary’s, with the goal of producing a kind of fermented seafood sauce that is very popular in Vietnamese cuisine. Things were off to a good start, but just 4 years down the line, the owner, a man named Sanh Go, started complaining that Canadian regulations were killing his business. In the year 2000, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspected the factory and concluded that the sauce was produced in unsanitary conditions. Two years later, the Atlantic Seafood Sauce factory closed for good, but its giant vats of fermenting fish parts and seafood sauce have remained there ever since, causing a big stink.

Photo: Zeshalyn Capindo/Unsplash

“These past 10 years, it’s been getting worse each year because of the smell,” resident Juliette Lee told CBC. “And it’s now is also causing health problems, because you can’t breathe when it’s so pungent.”

Lee lives right next to the abandoned seafood factory and says that whenever her grandchildren come to visit, she makes them wear masks to protect them from the potentially toxic compounds in the air. And in the summer, when the smell makes breathing almost impossible, she and her husband pack up and go to live with her kids, 100 km away.

“There’s times I have to leave my home and go out to my son’s or daughter’s, because you can’t bear the smell here, because I have to bar up my house so the smell don’t get in it,” the woman said.

“When the smell starts I have to come in, close our windows and our doors, and stay in, like a prisoner, a prisoner in my own home,” St. Mary’s resident Muriel Whelan added.

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For the past 17 years, the vats of fermenting fish parts have been rotting away inside the closed Atlantic Seafood Sauce factory. Some time ago, they started leaking, with the smelly concoction spilling on the floor, going into the drains, and coming out the sides of the building and into the ocean. At one point, someone plugged the drains with cement, so now the pungent contents are leaking onto the factory floor, with nowhere to go. It’s estimated that the floor is covered with 2-4 inches of rotting seafood sauce.

A few years ago, authorities found a private company willing to go into the abandoned factory and clean the 150 vats inside. However, they were stopped by environmental agencies after dumping several containers of potentially toxic materials into the ocean. Since then, the community of about 400 residents have been trying to find an alternative.

The representative of a cleanup company that considered taking up the project told St. Mary’s deputy mayor, Steve Ryan, that it was one of the worst sites they had ever encountered.

“I think he told me he was almost 30 years in the business. And he was taken aback a little bit by there’s so much waste here and there’s no rodents… What he told me kind of scared me. He said: ‘Rodents know when something is toxic,'” Ryan recalled.


The fact that whenever government workers come to inspect the factory they wear hazmat suits and protective masks isn’t exactly reassuring to the people of St. Mary’s either, as they worry about the potential health consequences of breathing the pungent fumes for such a long time.

Finding a company willing to go into the abandoned seafood sauce factory and clean up the place has proven difficult, and those that will even consider the challenge are asking for more money than the town can afford to pay. One company’s bill was estimated at more than $700,000 Canadian dollars ($528,000).

The town of St. Mary’s has recently asked for financial assistance from the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment, but a previous application has been rejected before, so they’re not getting their hopes up. One thing’s for sure though, the rotten sauce has to go soon, because it’s a serious health hazard.