KANSAS CITY, Kan. — If you were outside Tuesday night and thought to yourself, “Hey, it smells like almonds or cherries out here,” well, you’re not alone.
Descriptions of the chemical-like “hand lotion”-type odor have poured onto social media and into state agencies.
Air quality officials in Kansas City say the haze in the skyline has something to do with this bizarre smell.
A spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said its likely that the almond-cherry smell was swept in with smoke from Canadian wildfires. Regional air quality readings have dropped in quality as well.
On Wednesday, a Subway blimp puttered through a soup of smoke while soaring over Interstate 70. People in multiple Kansas City-area communities reported seeing that haze.
“And you could really see it come in this morning. Like, I could see downtown KCK, but behind the buildings there it was a little hazy,” Karen Clawson, air quality program manager for the Mid-America Regional Council said.
She said the smoke is carrying the chemical smell — heavy on the almonds.
It’s a sentiment shared by KDHE, which said in a statement: “Some organic compounds which are emitted from wood combustion (I.E., wildfires) have distinct odors that may be especially noticeable within the smoke.”
“People saying things about maybe different fruity flavor in the air, mixed with chemicals, electrical fire type of smells — it’s likely cause by partially oxidized VOCs, which are volatile organic compounds,” Clawson added.
“The poor air quality that we’re seeing today is wildfire smoke coming from the north, mostly from Canada, and it came in behind a cold front,” Clawson said.
Clawson said her team’s research identified this specific smoke as coming from Northern Alberta, Canada. The almond smell is coming from the volatile organic compounds toluene and benzaldehyde.
Even if you don’t smell it, the air quality isn’t great.
“We have several monitors in our region that are reading orange levels right now,” said Clawson, indicating that the air quality could worsen overnight.
Air quality could rebound, however, by midday on Thursday.