Friday, July 8, 2016

What Exit - The Smells of the New Jersey Turnpike

Artwork by Joe Scordo, via IKEA - The view from here is breath-taking

I 3< NJ

" that you?"
"That wasn't me, I swear."

Nestled only a few whiffs away from the "armpit" of New Jersey, we're driving along the Turnpike. Somewhere around exit 13A, the smell of farts that enters your car is so powerful, and so spot-on, that it absolutely must be established as to where the smell came from (or didn't come from).

The New Jersey Turnpike, and especially this portion from exits 13 to 14, is an impromptu olfactory museum venting the aromatic byproducts of civil engineering and urban systems. Petroleum refineries, natural gas electricity generation plants, waste treatment facilities, and plain old garbage dumps all process the resources and waste of one of the most densely populated places in America.

Brian Donahue, a reporter with the Star Ledger, investigates further in a video titled "What's That Smell?"

He visits the 5th largest sewer plant in the country, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission. They process 250 dry tons of thickened sludge per day. (Smells like baby diapers.)

Not far away he stops at the rendering facility where meat waste from slaughterhouses, grocery stores, etc. is boiled down and turned into animal feed, fertilizer, soap, and so on. (The smell of rotten animal carcass.)

We can safely guess that "the smell of 13A" is actually a mix of natural gas facilities and garbage dumps. Odorless natural gas has smelly skunk mercaptans mixed into it so we can smell a gas leak, and garbage dumps - just like our own bodies - decompose food into hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs).

In the finest of irony, The NJTP also runs through the heart of the flavor industry - IFF, Givaudan, and many more. It is literally called The Flavor Corridor, as it produces more than half the flavor chemicals in the United States (Schlosser 2001).

There really should be an audio tour available like they do at museums. Thinking about putting the NJTP logo under copyright protection to generate revenue?

An audio tour might be less contentious.

Here's the program for your visit, please enjoy!

"The entire area from Exit 9 to Exit 18 is either in the midst of or at the edge of an estuarine environment rife with salt marsh, standing water, and untold tons of rotting plant and animal matter.

Even with no industry and no turnpike, this would stink on a hot day. I don't know how much water and ground pollution adds to its foulness, but all that industry sure does leave a lot of both behind.

Add one part each, mix well in heat and humidity, and take a deep breath." -Pete from Boston

Exit 14. Dead animals, or in the parlance of the aroma industry, "the sickly-sweet smell of rotting flesh."

Exit 13A. Rotten egg flatulence.

Exit 13. Baby diapers.

Exit 10-9. Oregano. Can someone explain this please. ... Well, according to our njtp experts in the comments section (thank you Mike), this would be The Spice Chain Co. right off the turnpike, which is also adjacent to the Stroehmann's bakery.

Exit 8. "Smells like a Flintstones vitamin factory exploded nearby." @markremo

Kate McLean, olfactory experience designer focusing on human perception of the urban smellscape. she has created smell maps of different cities.

New Jersey Turnpike during a rainstorm
Urban Olfactory: What does history smell like?
At SPUR - San Francisco - 2014
The scent of the Turnpike “combines the smell of ozone, concrete, petrichor and geosmin to collapse a rainstorm into a single moment, bring country to city & join pavement with sky,” according to the label on the jar.

"NJ Turnpike Tour"
in New Jersey: A Guide to the State, Barbara Westergard says the primary culprits are mercaptans that are by-products of refining (they are also the stuff added to natural gas so you can smell it).
Pete from Boston, AA Roads Forum. July 2014.

The Flavor Corridor
taken from Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, 2001:
“The New Jersey Turnpike runs through the heart of the flavor industry, an industrial corridor dotted with refineries and chemical plants. International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), the world's largest flavor company, has a manufacturing facility off Exit 8A in Dayton, New Jersey; Givaudan, the world's second-largest flavor company, has a plant in East Hanover. Haarmann & Reimer, the largest German flavor company, has a plant in Teterboro, as does Takasago, the largest Japanese flavor company. Flavor Dynamics has a plant in South Plainfield; Frutarom is in North Bergen; Elan Chemical is in Newark. Dozens of companies manufacture flavors in the corridor between Teaneck and South Brunswick. Altogether the area produces about two thirds of the flavor additives sold in the United States.”


  1. Oh yeah, Exit 13 is a mix of Refinery and the Sewage Treatment Plant "Joint Meeting Sewage Disposal" that is right next to the Turnpike.

  2. Exit 9 spice smell is "Spice Chain Co." located right next to the Turnpike at the exit and the dessert like smell is likely "Stroemann Bakeries" practically next door to the Spice Chain Co. I smell it almost every day. Ah, the benefits of quitting smoking

    1. Nice, thank you for the clarification Mike, somebody knows their NJTP!