A short radio drama.
David: a trainee Environmental Health Officer.
Jeremy: Senior Environmental Health Officer. David’s manager.
The interior of the Environmental Health Protection Unit office, Linenhall Street, Belfast, July 2003. It is a Monday morning. There is quiet murmuring in the background, the rattle of computer keyboards, and the rasping, whirring sound of a faulty air conditioning unit.
David (anxiously): Sorry to disturb you Jeremy, but this was flagged up. Early hours of Sunday morning. Can you have a look?
Jeremy: Certainly. Just give me a moment to finish this email… OK, what’s up?
David: There. 1.56 a.m. See the spike on the chart? Sulphide, Nitrogen, Hydrogen, and CO2 levels go through the roof. And then again there, 6 minutes later. Only there’s slightly less Hydrogen Sulphide the second time.
Jeremy: Yes. I see. That Sulphide concentration is worrying. H2S at 1.06 micromoles per litre that first time; that’s pretty high. Any ideas?
David: I’m flummoxed. Not a baldy notion. Do we need to put out an alert?
Jeremy: We’ll certainly have to call the police.
David: Do you think it’s something suspicious then? Terrorists?
Jeremy: Hmmm. Apart from these two incidences, it hasn’t been repeated, so let’s not jump to any conclusions. Tell you what: why don’t we imagine this is a crime scene? That might help us work out the magnitude of the threat. What would be the first piece of evidence you’d want to consider?
David: The composition of the gas cloud?
Jeremy: Yes, that’s important, but first I want you to think about where the sample came from. The actual scene itself.
David: This is from the Lombard Street Multi-Pollutant Monitoring Station. Belfast.
Jeremy: Yes. And the time?
David: OK, so it’s Belfast City Centre, early on Sunday morning. What next?
Jeremy: Well, what do you know about Hydrogen Sulphide?
David: It’s highly toxic, highly flammable. Dangerous stuff. High concentrations can kill, if inhaled.
Jeremy: Good, yes. Anything else?
David: Colourless. Characteristic strong odour of rotten eggs.
Jeremy: And I do believe that your characteristic whiff is the key that will unlock this little mystery. If you analyze the chemical composition, I think you’ll find the gas was produced naturally. I hope you’re not too disappointed, but I don’t think we need to break out the hazard suits just yet. I’m afraid to say that I’ve seen this kind of activity before. Last time there were three similar spikes on the chart. It always seems to happen at the Lombard Street Monitoring Station.
David: So you’re not too concerned then? What do you think it is?
Jeremy: If we examine the CCTV footage, I suspect we will see two drunk men on their way home from the pub. One of them will give the other a leg up so he can, um, fart in the sensor; then the other will do it. That explains the interval between the spikes, you see: it would take a few minutes to climb up, produce the flatus – and fall about laughing, of course. I’d say that first one probably had a surfeit of Guinness followed by a kebab. The second, maybe a gravy chip.
David: You are a genius.