Mystery smell settles over Manhattan

NEW: Two people hospitalized for shortness of breath due to smell
• Mayor Michael Bloomberg calls the odor “unpleasant” but harmless
• Smell is detected throughout Manhattan and in parts of New Jersey
• Some buildings are evacuated; PATH commuter train line temporarily suspended

NEW YORK (CNN) — New York officials evacuated a number of buildings and shut down some trains after a mysterious gaslike odor was reported Monday.

A New York Police Department spokesman said an air quality test determined that the air is not hazardous, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said there is no indication terrorism was involved.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management reported no injuries, and spokesman Jared Bernstein said early Monday afternoon that the number of calls into the office had dwindled since the smell was first reported Monday morning.

Two people were hospitalized for shortness of breath related to the odor, said Bill Douster from the Jersey City Medical Center.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the smell “unpleasant” but said it posed no harm.

“One thing we are very confident of, it’s not dangerous,” Bloomberg said. “How long and what the sources are, we just don’t know.”

The pervasive odor was reported throughout Manhattan and as far away as Newark, New Jersey, 10 miles west of the Big Apple. In New York, the smell was reported from Midtown to Battery Park City.

Authorities are investigating the source of the smell. Several buildings were evacuated, and the PATH commuter trains along the Sixth Avenue line were temporarily suspended. The odor had no effect on subway service in the city.

New York police initially said no gas leak was reported, but a spokesman for Mayor Jerramiah Healy in Jersey City, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River, said the odor was emanating from a leak near Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

Bloomberg later confirmed a “small gas leak” near Sixth Avenue and Bleecker Street but said the smell appears to be a natural gas additive. Natural gas has no smell, so an additive, mercaptan, is included to give it a detectable smell in the event of a leak.

However, Bloomberg said that he didn’t believe the Manhattan gas leak could account for the smell being reported in New Jersey.

“We’re all working together to pinpoint the nature of the leak,” he said. “So far, the city’s air sensors do not report any elevated level of gas.”

The mayor said that “these things are normal, happen all the time.”

The police said utility provider Consolidated Edison told officials there’s been no drop in gas pressure in the city.

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