There’s something in the air in Richmond – just not exactly what its residents want.

The birds love the smell emanating from the Harvest Power composting facility off Number 7 Road, but the people could do without it.

“It basically smells like rotting fish,” neighbor Siamack Zand told CTV News. “Basically it’s like a big dumpster.”

“When the wind is in the other direction, we have nice ocean breezes. But when it’s going West, the kids have to hold their breath and run to the house. That’s how it is,” he said.

The stench that emanates from Harvest Power is just as overwhelming as the number of complaints it sparks, according to data from Metro Vancouver, which tracks and records the number of times residents make a stink about smells.

The agency made the smell complaint data available to CTV News. We nosed through over 5,000 records to find the top five scent sources. Crunching the numbers, there’s just no polite way to say it: according to this measure, Richmond stinks more than the rest.

“Some people have headaches, nausea, some will not be able to sleep. All those types of things have physiological impacts,” said Ray Robb, the regulation and enforcement division manager at Metro Vancouver.

Our tightly packed region has people living in proximity to a lot of industrial or agricultural activity, which is behind many of the smells. In the last year and a half, the Chevron oil refinery in Burnaby made it into the top five with 46 complaints.

“Some odours smell like rotten eggs, and the oil refinery has a rotten egg smell,” said Robb.

Coming in fourth place is the West Coast Reduction rendering plant in East Vancouver, with 91 complaints. It’s just behind the Enviro-Smart composting facility in Delta, with 92 complaints.

“That rancid butter, rancid food smell – that’s the composting,” said Robb.

Border Feedlot, a cattle operation in Surrey, is in second place with 163 complaints – many from the newer residential subdivision next door.

At number one, with more than 20 times the next biggest source, is Harvest Power in Richmond, with 3408 complaints.

Smell complaints in Metro Vancouver

The smells were recorded in every direction, throughout Richmond, in Vancouver, Burnaby, New Westminster, and even Surrey, B.C.

Mostly on the strength of the Harvest Power complaints, Richmond residents sent in 3410 smell complaints in the data sample. Next came Vancouver at 619, and in third place was Langley, at 259.

Richmond is bearing the brunt of an increased push to get organic food waste out of the landfill, said Robb.

“Certainly the number of odour complaints has gone up in recent years as we’ve tried to divert organic waste,” Robb told CTV News.

Metro Vancouver figures show that number is skyrocketing, with some 402,000 tonnes of organic waste diverted in 2016. That’s up 14 per cent from the year before, and almost three times the amount in 2008.

That meant that the Harvest Power facility got “backed up” with food waste, said spokesperson Stephen Bruyneel. Taking as much as 248,000 tonnes of organic waste in 2015 meant that the composting went from aerobic chemical processes to anaerobic processes – and that stinks a lot more.

“It’s a rich smell, a decomposing smell,” he said.

Faced with a revolt from neighbours, a crackdown on its operating permit from Metro Vancouver, and a complaint to the provincial Environmental Appeal Board, the company got serious about reducing its smells.

“We’ve changed what we take. We’ve stopped taking just food waste, and stopped taking it from cruise ships. We’ve brought in extra grinders, brought more people in, and reduced the size of the piles. All of those things combined has reduced the odour,” he said.

Harvest Power has cut its intake in half, and residents talked to by CTV News said the measures have made a difference.

But with so much more food waste coming from Metro Vancouver, it has to go somewhere – and that has other composting facilities seeing increased complaints, Robb said.

“The Enviro-Smart facility in Ladner has received a bunch of waste that used to go to the Harvest facility. They’ve increased their volumes and we’re seeing more complaints there,” he said.

Meaning it might soon be Delta residents – right now the fifth-stinkiest city with 158 complaints – where they’ll have to hold their noses.

CTV News has plotted out the more than 5,000 addresses across Metro Vancouver where smell complaints were reported over a one-year period, from July 2016 to July 2017. Check them out below.