The Aroma of Tacoma: Why One Washington City Is Known For Its Stench

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Tacoma, Washington has a rotten reputation. For decades, the city was enveloped in an undeniable stench. In fact, the foul emanation was so bad that Bruce Springsteen said it forced him to leave town early when he was there on tour in the mid-'80s.

The odor—reminiscent of rotten eggs—was partially attributed to the pollution in Commencement Bay, once ranked one of the 10 worst toxic waste sites in the U.S. When the tide was out, the smell was especially pungent. That water pollution combined with the air pollution—industrial smokestacks and animal renderings, in particular—and created a very particular scent. The aroma was so strong that it even inspired a song:

It’s much better these days. In the 1980s, the cleanup of Commencement Bay was placed on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priorities list. The EPA spent 25 years working with businesses and the community on various initiatives that would help restore the bay—and their efforts were largely successful.

In the 1990s, the Simpson Tacoma Kraft pulp and paper mill, one of the biggest air pollution offenders, also took a number of steps to reduce their noxious emissions. One of those solutions was upgrading their mill, which was responsible for a massive output of stinky sulfur.

So, the next time The Boss plays the port city, he'll find that the Aroma of Tacoma is now pleasant enough that he can enjoy his entire stay.