By LARRY McSHANE
The Associated Press
Tuesday, January 9, 2007; 9:57 PM
NEW YORK -- It's what New Yorkers like to say when they get a whiff of something funky: "Must be New Jersey." They said it again this week when a mysterious gas-like odor wafted across Manhattan and New Jersey. To which some indignant New Jerseyans said it's the New Yorkers who are smelling up the joint.
The source of the stink remained a mystery Tuesday, as well as a rich source of juvenile jokes about New Jersey _ and New York, too.
"You know what you call New York with a bad smell? New Jersey," Jay Leno wisecracked. And Conan O'Brien killed with this: "Apparently, New Yorkers knew something was wrong because it smelled bad when they got OUT of their taxis.
Charles Sturcken, a spokesman for the city Department of Environmental Protection, said initial complaints about the sulfurous, rotten-egg smell indicated that it emanated from south and west of the city. That would place it in _ surprise! _ New Jersey.
But Garden State officials, tired of Jersey-bashing and industrial waste jokes, were quick to charge New Yorkers with prematurely blaming their long-time neighbors for the Monday morning stench that produced scores of 911 calls, disrupted transit service and sent a dozen people to the hospital.
"It looks an awful lot like jumping to conclusions," said Lisa Jackson, New Jersey commissioner for environmental protection.
In an industrial section of Kearny, N.J., diner manager Milton Tzoumas agreed.
"No one should point fingers until they find out where it came from," Tzoumas said. "What are we, little kids?"
It sometimes appears that way between the nation's largest city and the most densely populated state. They have feuded over ownership of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the New York Giants and Jets (who play in New Jersey), and the New Jersey Nets (who are coming to Brooklyn).
But neither side on this two-century-old border war is claiming ownership of the funky smell.
New York investigators considered three possible theories for what a front-page New York Post headline dubbed "THE BIG STINK."
The first was a New Jersey chemical plant, although it was later ruled an unlikely source, Sturcken said. Next was a natural process, such as decaying vegetable matter related to the recent warm weather. And last was a build-up of sewer gases in both New York and New Jersey, tied to Tuesday's wet weather.
In the initial moments of the craze over the smell, officials in New Jersey indicated that the odor was coming from a leak in Greenwich Village. But they later said they were investigating the possibility of a natural gas pipeline problem in their state.
Wherever the stink came from, Mayor Michael Bloomberg stressed there was never any danger to the public.
"It was good theater," the mayor told reporters, "for you and for Jay Leno."
Associated Press Writer Wayne Parry contributed to this report from New Jersey.