Researchers believe they’ve found the source of a stinking problem that has plagued areas surrounding sewage treatment plants for decades.

Much of the rotten cabbage smell that’s often prevalent near such facilities, they say, is likely caused by trace amounts of dimethyl sulfoxide, or DMSO, in wastewater.

DMSO, a common industrial solvent used in paint stripping, is not odorous or toxic. But bacteria in sewage can transform it into dimethyl sulfide, the chemical that causes a decaying cabbage or corn smell.

Although most industrial DMSO is recycled, some of its residues can enter the waste stream, the researchers say. In addition, consumers who use household products containing DMSO may unwittingly contribute to the problem by flushing those products down the drain.

The study — conducted by German chemist Dietmar Glindemann of Glindemann Environmental Services in Halle, Germany; John Novak of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.; and Jay Witherspoon, of CH2M Hill, a project-delivery company in Oakland, Calif. — appears in the Jan. 1 issue of the American Chemical Society journal Environment Science & Technology.

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