WILLOWICK, Ohio — From Willoughby to Willowick and Mentor to Mentor on the Lake, lakeshore communities up and down the east side were all asking the same question Thursday morning: What is that smell? The noxious stench prompted unfounded concerns of natural gas leaks and dozens of calls to area police and fire departments. As it turned out, however, the insalubrious stench was coming from Lake Erie — and it was completely normal.
Although the stench had largely begun to dissipate by Thursday afternoon, the unmistakable smell of rotting fish baking under the summer sun was still present in Mentor and Mentor on the Lake. Small crowds of people gathered at Overlook Beach Park and noticed dozens of fish struggling for air at the surface. A mile away at Mentor Beach Park Pavilion, people on their lunch breaks largely stayed in their vehicles — with the windows closed, of course.
While certainly enough to make a person queasy, the odor is not harmful and, instead, is the byproduct of a normal occurrence in a large, deep lake like Lake Erie. Lake inversion or turnover occurs when cooler temperatures weakens the temperature "layering" of the lake's water levels.
Surface level water cools and becomes more dense. As it becomes more dense, water that had been at the bottom of the lake all summer rises to the surface. This mixing of the water layers replenishes the oxygen levels in the water and distributes nutrients. Unfortunately, this twice a year process also churns up all of the unspeakably nasty things at the bottom of the lake and, in turn, it releases gasses into the air.
"What are you going to do? Spray Febreze up and down the lake?" Brian Garrison said. "It has this aroma of sewer gas, and that's putting it nicely."
The noxious smell prompted more than 60 calls for service across several lakeshore communities as residents thought the smell was coming from a natural gas leak. Dominion Energy confirmed that the smell was, in fact, coming from the lake. The smell also prompted a short lived evacuation at Mentor High School as authorities confirmed that there was no natural gas leak. Classes resumed later in the day on Thursday.
Euclid residents on social media smelled it, too.
The smell didn't stop Diane Mercadante and her friends from gathering at Mentor Beach Pavilion for their daily game of chair volleyball. They did, however, briefly contemplate taking their game further inland.
"I’ve never been down here and smelled it that bad. Never," Mercadante said.
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