Reports of ‘cat urine’ smell continue in Wilmington area


NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Months after a New Hanover County factory was ordered to stop releasing a foul odor into the air, people across the region are still smelling it.

“Newborn children are breathing that in, our elderly are breathing that in, our veterans are breathing that in,” said Wilmington resident Obryant Henry.

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It’s an issue that has been going on for years, and has even made national headlines.

In July, WWAY learned the smell, which has been described as a cat urine odor, had been linked to Fortron Industries on Highway 421 in New Hanover County. It’s generated as the plant washes polymer with acetone.

Obryant Henry grew up in the Cape Fear area. He says it wasn’t until a few years ago that he noticed a bad smell in the air.

“I was working in the yard and I smelled it and I thought maybe my dad ran over an animal or something,” Henry said.

Since then, Henry says he’s noticed it every few weeks or so, and he’s not the only one.

“I live downtown and I do still notice it,” said New Hanover County Representative Deb Butler.

Butler, who has been working with Fortron and the State Department of Environmental Quality, says Fortron has done millions of dollars in upgrades, and plans to do more.

“I think it’s lessening in intensity and frequency, but we’re going to keep at them until they eradicate it completely,” Butler said.

Fortron planned to replace pressure release valves, which the company believed would stop the odor. But, as recently as this week, social media has been full of complaints about it.

Although a company spokesperson says it isn’t toxic to human health, Henry isn’t convinced.

“I have kids, you know what I’m saying?” he said. “They’re growing up, and we live here. They’re breathing in that same air.”

Fortron says they are preparing a statement about the odor. DEQ has not responded to a request for more information.