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What is that cat urine smell in parts of South Philly?

UPDATE: The city is pointing the finger at a new power plant in West Deptford, N.J., for this sulfuric, urine-like mystery odor.

cat urineIck.

We’ve been getting consistent complaints recently about a smell described as cat urine that has been popping up along a stretch of South Philly. The reports have been coming mostly from south of Snyder Avenue, west of Broad, but reports stretch as far as Front and Ritner.

Our tipsters tell us that it’s been happening in some parts almost every day for about three weeks.

The Facebook group Taking Our South Philly Streets Back, which has received dozens of comments about the pungent odor, said Sunoco and PGW have ruled themselves out as culprits through air-quality tests. Apparently it’s been going on for weeks. Here’s a sampling of some of the comments:

I’m on the 300 block of Jackson and the smell of cat pee is so strong it almost knocks you out when we opened our doors!

I’ve lived here all 51 years of my life and in the same 5 block radius and never smelled this before. I thought a family of cats was living in my yard.

Ok thank God it’s not only me who smelled it. I walked in my bathroom and was like ewww.

Eww, indeed. One commenter found this article from North Carolina that said the smell is produced by a specific confluence of chemical manufacturing and environmental factors and that the weather can have a huge impact on when it happens. It doesn’t explain why it would be happening here and now though.

We left messages yesterday with Councilmen Mark Squilla and Kenyatta Johnson’s offices to see if we could get to the bottom of it. Squilla told us last night that he’d get the city’s Vector office to inspect, but that he will need specific locations.  rep for Johnson didn’t respond.

UPDATE: Just heard from a rep from Johnson’s office. They’re on the case now too.

Meanwhile, have you smelled it? Where are you? Put your response in the comments, so we can get to the bottom of this.


92 Responses to What is that cat urine smell in parts of South Philly?

  1. mjg58 July 16, 2014 at 9:24 am #

    South Philly has terrible air quality. There is a hotline to Philadelphia Air Emissions: 215-685-7580 to call and file complaints. My theory is the chem plants use weather events and nighttime as cover for dumping illicit emissions in the air.

    • ProvWitout July 16, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

      Yes! They do!!! They’ve been doing that for years! It must stop!

  2. Allison July 16, 2014 at 9:44 am #

    We’ve smelled it outside our house at 15th and McKean. It’s not a constant, but when it’s there, it’s strong!

    • SAR July 16, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

      12th just south of Watkins is the worst!!

  3. AnthonyG July 16, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    ooook…. ignoring the tinfoil hat consipracy theories…

    It’s cat pee, from too many feral cats. Too many people feeding them, not to mention the spay/nueter & release people.

    @Albert: did you really expect to get any response from K-J?? lol’s….

    • ProvWitout July 16, 2014 at 6:01 pm #

      Your beer distributor at 1218 Snyder is now painted the color of piss to add to the smell of piss!

      • AnthonyG July 17, 2014 at 8:56 am #

        Well, it is Snyder Ave, what do you expect??

        • ProvWitout July 29, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

          You and people of your ilk forced it on us. Hurts your credibility. It ain’t the avenue’s fault you littered it with your slop business.

  4. Krissy July 16, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    I thought it was just my cats! I smelled it the other morning (13th and Reed) and thought my older cat might have peed in one of the rooms, but couldn’t locate any.

  5. Kyle July 16, 2014 at 10:26 am #

    13th & Pierce — I shut our windows the other day because it was so bad.

  6. Angelo July 16, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    After every heavy rainfall the dog park @ 13th Reed reeks of urine. This probably isn’t the cause, however it does burn the nose. BTW there are ways of reducing the stench SPADO peeps!

    • SPADO friend July 16, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

      just curious, but why would it smell more when it rains? Wouldn’t that dilute any pee and subsequent smells? Im just trying to think about this logically…

      the dog park is hopefully getting re-done with the rest of that park; hopefully that will help.

  7. Karen July 16, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    I smell it constantly around the 12th and Fitzgerald area.

  8. Louis B. July 16, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    Maybe the odor is coming from the chemicals that come from the airplanes that spray the sky with “chem trails”? We are sprayed almost everyday.

    • AnthonyG July 16, 2014 at 11:23 am #

      @Louis: take palm of your hand. Slap it hard on face.
      Now, those trails you see “coming” from jets? They’re WATER VAPOR.

    • MM July 16, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

      Uh, ok. Lol.

    • Taskerrr July 16, 2014 at 12:50 pm #

      Louis, the planes are spraying deadly DHMO on us!

    • ProvWitout July 16, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

      Yeah I can’t get down with that conspiracy theory… But they refineries do look like they have more active smoke stacks at night time and during weather events…

  9. esssskay July 16, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    YES! Around 15th/Moore – I smell it a few times a week right outside my front door and can’t stand it!

  10. Me July 16, 2014 at 10:28 am #

    18th and Wolf

  11. Rebecca July 16, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    We have smelled this off and on for the past two months. It is an airborne sulfur/sewage/gassy smell that begins at night and dissipates by morning. Possible culprits include refineries in Philadelphia and NJ, the Southwest wastewater treatment plant, and chemicals leaching into the sewers.

    For the sake of our health, let’s keep putting pressure on the city to resolve this. Here is the after-hours number for Air Management: 215-686-4516. Their website is

    • Girard Estate resident July 16, 2014 at 11:10 am #

      21st and Porter

  12. aaron July 16, 2014 at 10:43 am #

    On the stretch of 1400 to 1600 watts there are at least 50 feral cats that spray everything. This has been a constant for at least the past 5 years. Older neighbors feed them but otherwise take no responsibility. The city does squat. This needs to change. Feral cats carry more pathogens then most other vermin, not to mention on high humidity/pressure days it feel and smells like I am in a turkish bath if cat piss!

    • Marianne July 18, 2014 at 12:42 am #

      Arron I bet if u take those feral cats to ACCT half of them are microchipped meaning they were adopted then dumped , the owners should be fined and put in a cell not the cats

  13. Chris July 16, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    The smell is heavy in the Girard Estates area, typically, early in the morning. With a refinery, in addition to the waste treatment facility around Penrose, within spitting distance, it’s reasonable to consider looking into these facilities. All the feral cats in the city cannot create that powerful a stench. Either way, hazardous air quality of that intensity is a very serious public health concern that both representatives should make an immediate priority.

  14. Colin July 16, 2014 at 11:00 am #

    Returned from the shore this past weekend, smelled it really strong early Sunday morning at 8th and Warton. An hour later, it was gone.

    • Chris July 16, 2014 at 11:28 am #

      The smell was prevalent late-Sunday afternoon, when we arrived back in town from a weekend away, and still very present Monday morning.

  15. Michael July 16, 2014 at 11:17 am #

    Rosewood and Porter here… I’ve smelled it too. I thought it was weird because I almost never see/hear stray cats in the neighborhood and it doesn’t always coincide with trash day (people throwing out their litter).

  16. Ruth July 16, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    We smelled it over the weekend around our house at 19th and Ritner.

  17. Jess July 16, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    I’ve smelled it on and off for the past couple of weeks around Front and Jackson.

  18. Carolyn July 16, 2014 at 11:48 am #

    7th & Fitzwater

  19. Leanne July 16, 2014 at 11:54 am #

    I’ve often smelled it at 12th & McKean, but always thought it was actual cat pee, from cats that roam the neighborhood.

  20. Allison July 16, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    I live on broad and tasker and I’ve smelled it too. Mostly when it rains.

  21. whitman resideny July 16, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    400 block of wolf st…….last monday

  22. Meaghan July 16, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    It was really strong when I left my house on passyunk and 16th during the weekend. I could smell it while I rode my bike for half a mile. Was scared i smelled like that but I don’t have a cat.

  23. Vadim July 16, 2014 at 12:24 pm #

    16th and Oregon Avenue. We smelled it Saturday and Sunday morning, as well as Tuesday evening. Called PGW – came out to check and said it’s caused by refineries releasing something into the air and supposedly only started happening a few weeks ago.

  24. Nicho July 16, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    Lots of human piss within 5 blocks of every bar – mostly noticeable right before it rains

    • ProvWitout July 16, 2014 at 5:59 pm #

      There is lots of human and animal piss around that Thai restaurant on 13th & Snyder…

    • Margie July 18, 2014 at 12:39 am #

      I think you are right. When cats are T&R their urine is not potent anymore, it is potent to attract other cats. I can’t tell you how many un- neutered men I see peeing in the alleys and they should be able to wait until they get home………Just saying!

      • DrivebyCurmudgeon July 18, 2014 at 2:53 pm #

        All cat piss stinks. Nice try.

        • Margie July 19, 2014 at 7:39 am #

          And so does human, so nice try right back at ya!

      • ProvWitout July 29, 2014 at 2:33 pm #

        You just wish you could piss standing up… LoL. Jk…

  25. Kate July 16, 2014 at 12:33 pm #

    The smell is not cat piss. If it was cat piss, the stench would never abate. It’s pervasive thorough South Philly and usually smells like sulfur or a gas leak, which really has me worried. I usually smell it in the mornings at 21st and Ritner.

    • Rebecca July 16, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

      Yes–we are at the corner of Porter and Lambert and smell it most mornings. It is definitely not cats.

  26. Christina July 16, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    Between 3rd and 4th on Dickinson street. On and off for the last two weeks. It’s unusual because there don’t seem to be many strays around. Mostly at night and gone by mid-morning.

  27. Lori July 16, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

    16th and Oregon

    It’s so strong and the fact that it makes it’s way into your house makes it even worse!

  28. Chalie July 16, 2014 at 12:44 pm #

    I thought the smell was from Inolex and I’m on Front and Fitzgerald which is not that far from Inolex

  29. Shelly July 16, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    12th and mifflin area …. Have always chalked it up to stray cats, but I haven’t really seen many around.

  30. bunz July 16, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    4th and tasker

  31. Dan P. July 16, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    We have cats (exclusively indoor) who have been getting blamed for this smell when it makes its way into the house. Same as everyone else here, we’ve smelled it off an on for the past several weeks, mostly in the morning. Our location is 12th just south of Dickinson. Glad to know we’re not the only ones!

  32. Brian July 16, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    it’s multiple people manufacturing methamphetamine

  33. TJB July 16, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

    Very foul smell from sewer at the corner of 12th and Latona and at corner of Wharton and 12th. Its been off and on for past year thought it was due to the new construction or stuff going on at the new Wharton Lofts, but it has been lingering on since these projects have been completed.

    • HA July 17, 2014 at 10:05 am #

      I lived at that intersection from 2004-2008 and it was always a serious concern – and before the dog park. The neighbors on Iseminger had the sewer people out so many times! No resolutions and very noxious.

      I smell it less at 17 & Federal early morning.

  34. Kmc July 16, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    I smelled it Monday morning 7/14 near 12th and Dickinson

  35. Brian July 16, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    I’m not sure why my reply was rejected since it is the most likely culprit. When people manufacture methamphetamine the ammonia and toxins smell exactly like cat urine. Because ammonia is lighter than air it travels and atomizes quite a bit, which would explain the “widespread” smell. Since it’s been going on for days or even weeks, I would submit that it is likely there is a home meth lab in the area. Maybe multiple.

    • AnthonyG July 16, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

      @Brian: yes, South Philly is now home to a hundred new Heisenberg’s? Exactly how do you know what “cooking meth” smells like?? Oh, you read it on the internet? Gotcha.

    • Margie July 18, 2014 at 12:47 am #

      Thanks Brian for an intelligent response to what may or may not be going on. I love it when people try to be of some help with an issue that is trying to be explored in a civilized manner rather than trying to debate over every little point that is not agree upon.

      • ProvWitout July 29, 2014 at 2:36 pm #

        Agreed.. He might be right…

  36. donna July 16, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    Smelled here at 28th and Passyunk absolutely horrible.

  37. Jen July 16, 2014 at 1:26 pm #

    9th and Tasker. I usually smell it in the morning, but have smelled it in the evening as well up by 10th and south.

  38. spf5000 July 16, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    I noticed such a smell coming from a storm sewer inlet that PWD was cleaning out. Perhaps they are cleaning out mucked up drains throughout the area?

  39. SARAH July 16, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

    11th and mercy st it is so bad at night I cant have my windows open it chokes me right up

  40. steve July 16, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

    2600 s juniper st

  41. jessie July 16, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

    2nd and mifflin, have smelled it on and off for weeks

  42. Chris J July 16, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

    A few years ago I kept getting that smell in my house. I called the fire department, police, PGW, L &I (air managment) and water department. One night the smell was so bad that I had to send my son to my parent’s house because the authorities could not say that it was not toxic. The police called in the DEA because it was the same smell as that which is produced by a meth lab. The funny thing is that it only came up during a heavy rain. The smell was finally traced to the vacant lot next to my house. The explanation given is that when it rains the water table rises. With the rising of the water table the odor from the undiluted uric acid is released. They said that it would disappear over time, which it did. My hunch is that the sewer lines are backing up and the gas is being released from under ground.

    • AnthonyG July 17, 2014 at 8:55 am #

      @Chris J: you freanin’ called the Police because of a bad odor?? Way to effin’ waste resources…. You, outta the gene pool!

  43. dave July 16, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

    I have smelled it near my home on 16th and oregon in particular i remember it being early in the morning around 7 am. One day even as far as camden near the ben franklin bridge where it smelled like natural gas.

  44. jady July 16, 2014 at 3:09 pm #

    Btwn 5th and 6th on Dickinson, i don’t know now but they used to clear some kind of smokestack on this building across the street and cover the neighborhood in a dark cloud that smelled of sulfur really bad. This was last year though.same smell now though.

  45. KAM July 16, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    east and Shunk and 17th & Printer, especially th is past weekend.

  46. zreese July 16, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

    I’m near 12th & Mifflin and it’s been pretty bad here lately. Coincidentally, PWD opened up a chunk of the street right before it started…

  47. acer July 16, 2014 at 3:44 pm #

    I smell it all the time, but thought it was mostly dog waste baking in the sun since all of my neighbors around me let their dogs crap and piss all over their patios instead of walking them. They think cleaning it once a week with ammonia is enough, but it’s really not.

    • Anita July 16, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

      We’ve been smelling here at 8th & Bigler.

  48. Jodie44 July 16, 2014 at 6:44 pm #

    7th and manton – not cats. Smelled like a combo of gas and cat urine to me. I think it was back on June 25th that the smell was so bad I woke up and had to close my windows. It went away but it has come back again a few other times since.

  49. elizabeth July 16, 2014 at 11:08 pm #

    29th and Mifflin . Thank goodness never smelt anything yet!!!!!

  50. DEF July 17, 2014 at 12:22 am #

    11th and Emily.
    I came back after a week away and thought cats had sprayed all around my house…both front and back. Then a neighbor brought it up and said his front and back (on the other side of the street) also both smelled. We chalked it up to stray cats…but I’ve seen the same stray cats around here for 11 years and it’s never smelled this bad…

  51. Margie July 17, 2014 at 4:23 am #

    They had something on the news about odd oders the other day. They had fire enigines about 2 blocks from my house about two weeks ago, because of an odd oder, not cat though. I think it would be a wonderful thing if all the people who are noticing the “cat oder” smell would become involved in a humane effort to help find homes for these innocent cats who are usually dumped after becoming an inconvience for irresponsible owners who do not have the compassion to do the right thing and neuter their pet and/ or find a responsible person who would care for the cat and then do the right thing by finding it a forever home. These cats are living breathing beings, not human granted, but they do have a brains which allows them to feel pain, search for food to fill a basic need to be fed when they are hungry and get cold when it’s 4 degrees outside, imagine not having a voice to ask for help. There has been a huge effort in Philly through various organizations and volunteers to have the existing cats neutered so they will not multiply, get rabies and distemper shots. These volunteers do this on their own time and dollar to try to deal with this issue in the most humane way possible. I can”t speak for everyone who is involved with TNR work, but I am pretty sure that many would rather be at home watching a good movie or relaxing instead of taking care of someone else’s responsibility. It would be wonderful if more would become part of the solution instead of the problem by JUST complaining. Everyone has a compassionate side, hope in the future we can see the best in people.

    • Marianne July 18, 2014 at 12:54 am #

      Well said Marge

  52. Michelle July 17, 2014 at 7:39 am #

    We are a little more south at 15 and bigler but I’ve been complaining about a WIERD smell to my husband for like 2 weeks. I swear it is cat pee from our alley. I hate to close my kids window because I thought it smelled like cat urine or their spray. Maybe it’s what you are talking about

  53. Jared July 17, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    11th and Titan here – smelled it last few days and thought it was the gaggle of stray cats that seem to reside on my block…now i’m not so sure.

  54. Abby July 17, 2014 at 9:13 am #

    900 Block of Daly. It was very strong on Monday.

  55. Kat July 17, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    Considering the smell has been identified in several areas throughout the city, it is highly unlikely that it is related to any kind of animal urine. It seems like the most likely cause is some kind of emissions that are blanketing the city.

    Has anyone noticed their pets behaving differently or any increase in bird deaths? If it is some kind of chemical, smaller animals would be the first to display any reactions to it.

    I’m glad that the smell is being investigated more closely, but it only takes one mistake (or in this case several) for our environment to be contaminated.

  56. Brandi July 17, 2014 at 9:23 pm #

    13 between federal and Ellsworth. Strong Sunday and Monday. Comes up through the sewers I think! Even into sewer lines to houses- could it be a Chemical the sewage plant adds?

  57. Sam July 18, 2014 at 10:00 am #

    I do not smell it at my house on Lee Street but I did smell it at work on Monday which is at 19th and Hamilton streets. Why is Vector control being dispatched? This is a chemical smell not a rat/insect issue?

  58. Mike July 18, 2014 at 12:15 pm #

    I’m just north of 20th and Snyder, and have smelled it a few times, so bad I shut the windows and had to run the air conditioner. I, too, thought it was all the feral cats in the neighborhood, most of whom seem to like to use my backyard as their own personal kitty litter alternative … luckily, it hasn’t been too bad recently …

  59. Fin July 18, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    @ 12th & Jackson. Stench was so strong and sudden last Saturday, no way it’s cat urine from a few strays.

  60. Jennine July 19, 2014 at 7:30 am #

    Well some of you are trying to blame actual cats. They are not the culprit. The oder must be coming from a manufacturing facility of some kind. We’ve smelled it twice this week in the middle of the night. Last night it was sooo bad, it woke me up and I had to close the windows. Now here’s the kicker, I don’t live in the city. I live about 20min southeast of Phila. in Franklinville NJ.

    • ProvWitout July 29, 2014 at 2:39 pm #


  61. mike tarsia July 22, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    i smelled it and called the gas company which had to go all over because i was told that a lot of people called PGW …. so this not only potentially affects our health but also puts a money and man power drain on PGW

  62. Mariel Carr July 25, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

    I produce an audio podcast at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Old City. We’re a non-profit organization that looks at how science and technology in society. (The podcast is called Distillations–it’s a free iphone app, you can also find it in the iTunes store and it gets picked up by radio stations from time to time)

    Our next show is about smell and health and I’d love to talk to anyone who has smelled this smell over the past few weeks. I’d want to briefly interview you, ideally near the spot where you live/have smelled the smell.

    If you’re interested please email me!
    podcast webpage:

  63. Mariel Carr July 25, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

    Sorry for the typo: we look at science and technology in society.

  64. Elise Charlesworth July 25, 2014 at 7:51 pm #

    Has any one considered the Inolex plant across the street from John’s Roast Pork? I smell it all the time when the wind is blowing from the south.

    • ProvWitout July 29, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

      Yes! That plant is the WORST!!!

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