BEE Shop Files: The Odor King – Part I

Mark Conley

Active member
When I work for what was the Old Tactical Air Command, I acquired a title of sorts…

It seemed that every time a person on the Air Force Base had an odor, or a smell, or just something in the air that wasn’t quite right, they would call our department at the base hospital. Now the Bioenvironmental Engineering Department on an Air Force base is the commander’s representative to monitor a workers health conditions in an industrial environment, but we also handled the strange and unusual items as well. Sometimes it would be the smell of paint in an administrative office. Other times it could be mold or mildew growing on the walls of a poorly ventilated area. We got it because there usually wasn’t anyone else to give it to.

Naturally, I was the lowest ranking person in the office. And because of gravity and the earth’s curvature, all things, such as these odor surveys, rolled down the hill my way. Most of the time, they were pretty normal complaints…right up until the time the General’s meeting room stank.

Now the General’s meeting room was in an older renovated World War II Building on the base. It was nice as meeting rooms went: every Friday the General and his staff would meet and discuss all those important things that officers do. One rainy winters day, the officers sat down in the room for their weekly meeting; halfway through the head man’s tirade, the room suddenly filled with an odor so powerful, so prevailing, that witnesses said it cleared the area in just under 30 seconds time. Some said that it had a light, greenish fog-like appearance; others described it as a suffocating chemical warfare like odor (how anyone could tell this I have no idea). All party’s agreed that it was objectionable, and not desirable in their meeting room.

Sure enough, my boss the Major got the call, on Monday morning, from the Head Base Civil Engineer himself. They had spent all weekend trying to chase this odor. They said they couldn’t find the source, and the General’s staff was on their backs calling to get an update on the problem. The man was most adamant; they needed the odor found, and its source eliminated. So the major called the MSgt: the MSgt called me, and I found myself headed towards the building, at 11:30 Monday morning, to hunt an odor.

The General’s adjutant met me at the building, and followed me around to establish the type of progress I was making with the investigation. That’s what he called it; my old southern boy philosophy was that the man was bird-dogging me, and it wasn’t desirable. Well, nothing above ground seemed to be in bad shape at all. Two of the biggest odor emitters, such as bathroom vent pipes and gas connections, weren’t stopped up or leaking into the room. Nothing else was out of the ordinary. After about an hour of poking around topside, it was looking pretty grim. And the ole adjutant dog wasn’t helping matters either.

I went to talk to building manager, to see if he knew anything about the building that I may have over looked. While talking about the problem, he asked if I had gone under the building, into the crawl space. He related that the plumbers had been under the building about three months previously; He wondered why the other group hadn’t gone under the building at all. Well, I was pretty anxious to get away from the adjutant; after getting a flashlight and some gloves for my hands I slid through the trapdoor and entered the area.

About 75 feet from the trapdoor, over by the central latrine area, I found it. It was two feet high, ten feet long, and about four feet wide. It was the biggest pile of plumbing debris I had ever run into. There was toilet paper and human feces. Quite a Lot of feces; officer grade feces, the absolute best kind, if you were feces I guess. Covering this mound of feces was about a two-inch covering of powdered swimming pool chlorine. Cutting through a corner of the mound was what appeared to be a water trail, that was now dry, that led from the edge of the building.

Well I knew what happened. The plumbers had cleaned out a major stoppage under the building, and had covered it with chlorine to help kill the smell of the feces. Well during the fall the side vents to the crawlspace were open, and the smell had dissipated on the winds. When winter came, for energy conservation purposes the vents were closed. What they didn’t hadn’t figured on was swimming pool chlorine is vicious stuff; you have to dilute it with a lot of water, other wise you get an extreme exothermic (read a whole lot of heat) chemical reaction if you don’t. Well, water had got in under the building when it had rained that day; this water, reacting with the chlorine, and the other unmentionables, produced the odor. The closed off crawlspace vented the gas in the one direction it could go, which was straight up to the officers meeting room. Yes, I actually poured some water on the pile to test this theory. Suffice to say that I can do 75 feet very fast in a crawl space when properly motivated to do so.

When I got out of the hole after the experiment, the adjutant asked what I had found. I put on my most professional face, and told the man that he had a large amount of feces under the building that had reacted with the chlorine to form the gas release. He looked at me very carefully and stated “ Young man, are you trying to tell me that I have a large pile of shit under my building, and that’s what causing the problem?” I did not expect such a statement from an officer; I just dumbly nodded my head and left.

When I got back to the office, Hell was in session. The adjutant had already got on the phone and chewed on the Base Civil Engineer; he was now attempting to chew my Major a new rectum over the phone. I swear I could hear the screaming conversation from the door. Now, my Major wasn’t ruffled at all, as he did not have a weak constitution or a limp backbone problem. He politely listened to the man’s tirade, and then asked if the problem was solved so he could mark it off the board. The click could be heard across the room.

The major fixed me with his eyes and nodded me towards my favorite counseling chair to at least get my side of the story. After I told him what happened, he nodded and then told me that in the future, I needed to come back and report to him what I had found, and not to the General’s Adjutant.

A couple of days later, I got an anonymous wooden plaque in the mail. It was like one of those little wooden desk signs with your name on it, only this one was different. This one said “The Odor King – Your Smell Is What I Live For”.

Its one of those little things I treasure… :D