Why Does It Smell On the Alex Fraser Bridge?

Things You Didn't Know About Vancouver
Why Does It Smell On the Alex Fraser Bridge?

Ever wonder why the drive along the Alex Fraser Bridge comes with a strange smell that can’t be placed?

As a major cable-stayed span bridge and Vancouver landmark that connects Richmond and New Westminster with North Delta, the Alex Fraser Bridge carries Highway 91 across the Fraser River. Since 2003, traffic volume has been growing at an annual average percentage of 1.4 per cent, according to the Ministry of Transportation Traffic Data Program: Annual Volume Reports (2003-2014).

There are more than 100,000 vehicle trips daily made across the Alex Fraser Bridge and its commuters are more than familiar with the horrible smell that plagues their daily commute.

Annacis Island is an industrial island connected to Delta via the Alex Fraser Bridge. It also contains one of Metro Vancouver’s secondary wastewater treatment plants. That’s correct, the smell isn’t coming from manure or garbage but friends and family in the Lower Mainland.

The Annacis Island Wastewater Treatment Plant is a secondary treatment plant that processes 175 billion litres of wastewater every year for over 1 million residents in 14 municipalities. Once it’s treated, the wastewater is discharged into the Fraser River.

Secondary wastewater treatment is an additional step that happens after primary treatment to remove about 95 per cent of organic materials found in wastewater such as suspended solids and dissolved organic materials.

Secondary treatment protects and maintains healthy waterways so that pollutants don’t flow directly into rivers and oceans. This takes place on Annacis Island, which explains the pungent aromas that commuters experience on the Alex Fraser Bridge.

The Annacis Island Wastewater Treatment Plant is currently undergoing a $550 million upgrade. It aims to serve 250,000 additional residents of Metro Vancouver. You can expect the smell to get worse before it gets better.


Image via ogcodes / Flickr

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  • I thought the smell was ..

    I honestly thought it was Chinese food. Like a plant that produces prepackaged Chinese good meals or something. That’s what it smells like to me.

  • Hi 604 Now — Thanks for highlighting the importance of wastewater treatment. You’ll be happy to hear that as part of the Annacis Island Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion, we are putting in about $20 million worth of odour control technology. This will result in major reductions in odours on the Alex Fraser Bridge. Please consider a correction or addendum to your story. Thanks! – Metro Vancouver.

  • Nick

    I just assumed the provincial government was having a policy meeting.

  • Don’t call it Vancity

    Is this written for tourists? I mean, I went to the treatment plant for a field trip with my elementary school. How can a resident not know where the smell is coming from?

  • sake bomb

    I’ve lived in Richmond for the past 10 years and have no idea what the smell was. I mean, I know it was coming from the plants but never cared to really dig into it. Only until now do I know what kind of plant the smell is coming from..