Let’s throw back to 2002, that weird year when Nickelback was taken seriously for a minute, Ben Affleck was considered the Sexiest Man Alive, and Justin and Britney broke up for the last time. That was also about the time that the Atlantic Seafood Sauce Company very quietly closed its factory in St. Mary's, Newfoundland, leaving more than 100 vats of its only product behind.
Seventeen years later, the residents of the tiny Canadian town would really like someone— anyone??—to remove that beyond rotten sauce from the long-shuttered factory, because they’re tired of living beside a potential health hazard. They’re also tired of the smell.
"When the smell starts I have to come in, close our windows and our doors, and stay in, like a prisoner," Muriel Whelan told CBC News. Other St. Mary’s locals say that they hand out disposable N95 respirator masks when their grandkids come to visit, or they have to stay with relatives during the summer, when the stench is at its worst. (They also don’t find it super reassuring when they notice that government officials wear full protective suits during their own visits to the site).
According to the CBC, the town council in St. Mary’s has tried to find a company who could remove those vats of seafood sauce from the factory, but it’s not as easy as Googling “waste removal service.” In 2016, a private company was hired to clear the building before demolishing it, but when they started emptying the vats into the ocean, they were asked to stop, period. And when the deputy mayor Steve Ryan tried to hire someone else, they took one look at the situation and noped straight out.
“I think he told me he was almost 30 years in the business, and he was taken aback a little bit by there's so much waste here and there's no rodents,” Ryan said. “What he told me kind of scared me. He said ‘rodents know when something is toxic.'"
Ryan said that the cost of cleaning up the site has been estimated at $700,000 CAD (US $525,900), which is well beyond the town’s budget. City officials have requested a grant from the province and are currently awaiting a decision; their previous grant application was denied. (MUNCHIES has reached out to the St. Mary’s Town Council for comment but has not yet received a response.)
The Atlantic Seafood Sauce factory opened in the summer of 1990, and its plan was to produce the kind of fermented seafood sauce that is often found in Vietnamese cuisine. (The company’s founder, Sanh Ngo, emigrated from Vietnam to Canada in 1975). In 2000, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspected the site and alleged that the sauce was being produced under unsanitary conditions. The factory put its operations on hold in 2002, and Ngo fought the CFIA’s charges in court until he was ultimately acquitted in 2006.
Unfortunately for everyone with a functional olfactory system, the factory never resumed production—but all of those vats of seafood sauce were left behind to eternally ferment. Service NL, which conducts workplace and environmental inspections in the province, tried to contact Ngo about the potentially hazardous waste material in 2012, but its letters were returned as undeliverable and no other Atlantic Seafood Sauce Co. representatives could be located.
For now, it seems like everyone in St. Mary’s just has to wait to see what happens, which is exactly what they’ve been doing for the past 17 years. Waiting, worrying about their health, and stocking up on breathing masks. What a way to live.