Visitors don't come, residents need to check the wind direction before hanging out washing and one couple can't enjoy the $8000 deck they've installed. Kurt Bayer meets locals suffering from a powerful, sickening stench.
The smell is now so bad it has a name. The Bromley Stink, or the Bromley Odour, as it's dubbed on somewhat sanitised city council literature.
But it's all pretty unfair to the poor old Christchurch suburb. The area sprouted as a sewage farm 140 years ago and copped it rough in the February 2011 earthquake, with entire housing estates being crumpled and ultimately razed.
Now, it stinks.
But it's not just the people of Bromley who are suffering. Sister eastern suburbs Aranui, Linwood, South New Brighton, Southshore, Dallington and on some days - depending on the prevailing winds – people right across the sprawling Garden City are all wrinkling their noses.
The smell is seeping from the city's fire-damaged sewerage plant, and has intensified over the last month or so.
Variously described as smelling like burnt faeces, rotten socks, rotten s***, bad fish, it's a pungent, acrid, overwhelming and nauseating, funk. A gagging reek. Cloying, it clings to clothes and turns guts.
Locals spoken to by the Herald on Sunday don't want their kids playing outside. Windows stay jammed shut. Wind direction determines whether washing is hung on the line. Some sleep with windows open - they say they can't smell it when they're asleep.
There are concerns about long-term health effects and affected property prices.
One of the worst-hit places is Shortland Street. It's an old street notable for not having a drama-filled hospital and antiquated above-ground powerlines. A place where long-term residents all know each other, pop in for cuppas, and point out the houses with high rental turnover.
The Port Hills slink in the background and on the day the Herald on Sunday visited, a brisk autumnal southerly rippled through at 26km/h.
Tony and Sharon Finch, a couple in their 60s, live just a few hundred metres away from the plant on Shortland St, practically in its shadow.
They spent $8000 on a new deck but can't sit outside. They've never smelled the composting plant nearby, which has also copped criticism for its odour over the years, and only occasionally get a whiff from the city's nearby oxidation ponds.
But driving home from the supermarket now, the smell starts seeping through their car's air vents.
"Then you get home and open the car door and, oh, it hits you right in the face," Sharon says.
Flies have started swarming their house since the massive fire at the city's wastewater treatment plant on Monday, November 1 last year.
"They're waiting to come inside all the time," Tony says.
They have cans of fly spray situated strategically around the house.
"Not many people come to visit us anymore."
Asked to describe the stench, Tony suggests rotten socks. Sharon laughs and says, "More like rotten s***".
"It's horrible – and we have to live with it."
Just down the road, retiree Ron Fredericks says there's always been some sort of smell but over the 30-plus years he's lived there, he's just got used to it.
It's worth it though: he just loves Aranui, always has done.
But it's got worse since the fire – especially on hot days. Days when he wants the windows open to get a breeze in, but can't risk it because of the smell.
He needs to check the day and wind direction before hanging out any washing.
Visitors notice it straight away.
"How the f*** do you live here?" they ask him.
The city council has been slow to react to the problem, Fredericks reckons. He's not alone.
And he wonders if they'll ever properly solve the pong.
A few doors down, a local who's lived there for 40 years says they will sometimes get a hint of the ponds.
But they've never experienced anything like this.
"When people come over with their arms covering their face, you know something is wrong," he says.
"We can't even have a BBQ anymore – people come over and smell that and go, 'Bugger this, see you later mate'."
Across the road, Tina Den Hollander lives just metres from the plant's perimeter fence.
She wonders how the "most unpleasant" emanations are affecting her health.
"I am 80 years old," she says, shaking her head. Her husband recently passed away and she lives alone.
"It's not fair that people have to live with this.
"People in Fendalton wouldn't put up with it – they just wouldn't.
"They [council] say, 'We'll look into it'. That's all I ever hear. And it's just not good enough."
Christchurch City Council says they are working on it.
But it's a big job.
The fire burnt through the plastic roofs of twin trickling filters while contractors were carrying out work and caused them to collapse.
On Wednesday, contractors were finally announced to remove 26,000 cubic metres of "burnt material" - the equivalent of 10 Olympic-sized swimming pools - and identified as being "one of the main sources of the stench".
Working 12 hours a day, six days a week, it could still take four months to finish.
Councillor Yani Johanson says he doesn't understand why this wasn't done sooner – especially when a trial to remove the material was started in December.
A specialist air monitoring team from Hamilton has tested the air at various locations across the plant and in the immediate neighbourhood to determine the makeup of the foul smells.
"The reassuring news we have received from our initial look at the testing is that there is nothing in the air that poses any physical risk to the people's health, although we do acknowledge how mentally-tough the situation is for residents who live near the plant," says the city council's head of three waters, Helen Beaumont.
Small amounts of hydrogen sulphide were detected – a gas associated with geothermal regions like Rotorua. It's commonly called 'sewer gas' or 'Swamp gas'.
The highest levels of hydrogen sulphide were recorded at five parts per million in air quality testing around the plant last week.
Niwa air quality expert Dr Guy Coulson says the workplace limit is 10 parts per million for an eight-hour shift.
"The problem there, of course, is that is based on the idea that's just for eight hours and that's based on normal, healthy people.
"Outside of the workplace you might find more susceptible people."
Tests taken near the city's oxidation ponds also detected methyl mercaptan – a pungent gas that forms when organic material breaks down.
Council staff will continue monitoring odours and are meeting with Environment Canterbury and the Canterbury District Health Board to co-ordinate the monitoring programme.
But for those who live with the stink, more needs to be done.
Caleb Saunderson lives 500m away – on Mecca Place, a cul-de-sac backing onto Cuthberts Green on the opposite side of the plant to Shortland Street.
It's the easterly wind that shutters them up, especially if there's been recent rain.
His two young daughters no longer want to bounce on the trampoline or ride their bikes outside.
The 27-year-old sheet metal worker wakes up in the middle of the night and his home ventilation system has "spread it through the house".
Now he worries about the fetid odour seeping into his walls and curtains. He's not alone in worrying about falling property prices.
"It gets in the way of your everyday life. Of course it wears you down.
"There's nothing more I like than sitting outside and having a beer after a day's work but there's no way I can do that."
Saunderson helped organise a public meeting at Bromley Community Centre on Friday night "about the growing need for more affirmative action to be taken".
Locals putting up with the stink shouldn't have to pay full rates, he believes. Or get compensation in some way.
"The council just hasn't responded fast enough," he says.
"It's been six months and they're only just starting now."
The frustration is growing. For people like Saunderson, they feel they can't take much more of it.
He chooses his words carefully.
"We shouldn't have to put up with this when our quality of life has been so impacted by the council and their... well, you can fill in the blanks."