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Question DetailsAsked on 11/8/2014

Sweet smell in bathroom after condo units above use bathtub or sink in bathroom.

Live in first floor of a 3-floor condo building. When either of the owners in the units above use their bathtub or bath sink a sweet smell occurs in the bathroom. Don't know if this happens when they use their toilets. The odor also seems to waif down the wall of the adjacent bedroom (draft) - if sitting on sofa get a wiff of the smell and nose stings.
Checked with the sewer company and they said they saw no leaks in the main pipe.
Odor is strong but as it circulates throughout the house because pungent, stale smelling especially under beds and furniture with skirts.. Causes eyes to burn, nose to sting, memory and cognitive abilities impaired, digestive issues, naseau, feet neuropathy and sometimes headaches. After being out of the house for 4-6 hours the symptoms diminish.
Construction of condos are concrete boxes on top of each other. All units' bath sewer stack pipe is common (all three units bathroom water disposal bath pipes tie into one vertical stack.

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Answered 5 years ago by Member Services


One of my go-to plumbers ran into this once and told me about it - turned out to be a drug lab in one of the apartments dumping chemicals down the drain after each batch, which then - because of their high volatility - seeped up through the water in the trap and into each apartment. If there happens to be a stack leak - which would be VERY believable if it is plastic and it is being dissolved by the solvents - then you could get quite a dose every time the liquid in the system is disturbed, and of course when more is being dumped down.

Could also be a sewer gas coming into the system from the main but would not normally occur only during upstairs drain use - would also occur when you or other downstairs owners flushed and likely would occur all the time. May be chemical fumes sourced from another local house, or even industrial chemicals in the sewer. Perhaps you could convince the sewer utility as a safety measure to have someone check the nearby sewer main manholes and the building cleanout pipe for chemical smell and hydrogen sulfide gas as this happens - and they might run their gas detection meter in the vent stack and in your bathroom after running water upstairs, which would need condo manager cooperation for entry to run upstairs sink and tub water one by one.

One other possibility is they are using some sort of a hand cleaner or shampoo or rinse or body wash or such that you are particularly allergic to - but they usually do not contain aliphatics (light, volatile chemicals) so their smell would not come into your bathroom through the traps.

BTW - I presumed that you do use your sink and tub/shower and all other water fixtures (including washing machine drain pipe and any laundry tub and floor drains) enough so the traps stay full of water, right ? If not, if you have any trap or drain that the water could have evaporated out of, pour a half gallon or so of water down each one every 6 months or whenever you notice the smell - the water in the traps keeps gas from the sewer system from coming up through your fixtures. Remotely possible that you are getting some nitrous oxide or hydrogen sulfide gas from the sewer system coming up through a dry trap. Here is a link with the symptoms of hydrogen sulfide gas, which the sewer company has detectors for - nitrous oxides have many of the same symptoms, especially the eye-nose-lung irritation, like strong smog. When you come back to the house (not reliable in house because your nose quickly loses sensitivity to it) hydrogen sulfide will smell like rotten eggs - sulferous, not specifically sweet.Most of the nitrous compounds you could get from a sewer are odorless. You will note many of the symptoms you describe are included in the hydrogen sulfide list from the CDC below -

If not a dry trap problem andsolved by making sure each trap has water in it, I would complain of this situation to the condo manager ASAP (maybe or maybe not mentioning the drug lab possibility) and request that he have a plumber check out EVERY condo with the condo manager - if there is a drug lab in use it should be evident when they go into the apartment. And even if plumber did not find a sewer issue, a sewer stack smoke test would tell if there are leaks in the stack.

If they refuse to help out, then I would call the local health department or environmental department. If they refuse to help, then about all you could that I can think of would be to convince the condo management to hire an indoor environmental quality firm - or you could do that yourself, to check air and sewer for chemicals.

Other somewhat extreme possibilities but should work if all else fails is to talk to a cop in the drug enforcement team about the smell to see if it rings a bell with him, or call the fire department next time it happens - that would get people's attention, though unlikely the gas detection meters they carry would pick it up but they might call in the sewer department, and if they smell it strongly themselves might get government into action. Of course, could also result in everyone in the property being evicted till the cause is found and remedied.

Before going to extremes I would ask other condo residents (at least ones you know and trust) if they have noticed the smell. However, with the symptoms you describe, and especially if any other residents note them also, you should not continue to be exposed to this - I would get action on this as an emergency situation, not let it draw out over a long time, because prolonged exposure to even low doses can cause permanent health issues.

Answered 5 years ago by LCD

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