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CNN NEWSROOM

Pervasive Odor Spreads Across Parts of New York City; President Bush Finishing Work on New Approach to War in Iraq

Aired January 8, 2007 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: For those people that are just joining us, those are literally clouds moving over. Not a -- not a cloud of gas, or something like that. That's a normal day.
When you get winds out of the south, you get rain showers coming through. You get buildings that are 50 stories high, sometimes the clouds can actually go through the building. And you'll see the building right through the camera lens, as we are seeing it here.

The winds are out of the south at 10 miles per hour, though we are expecting the passage of a cold front that will change the wind direction dramatically. So maybe you're not smelling the odor. And if it's still coming out of wherever it's coming out of, as the winds change direction you may smell it.

So just get -- kind of get used to maybe that idea. It's coming from the south side of the city. We don't know, but that's where the major, I guess -- the major concentration of smell that we were reporting earlier was probably from downtown and then all the way over toward Jersey City.

Otherwise, here's what Battery looks like. Here's Battery Park. They did have odor they said in Battery Park City. And then on up here from Wall Street and downtown Tribeca, on up toward the village.

Now, the village, where we saw -- we're talking about Bleecker and Sixth. That's probably where -- and there's a whole three roads all come together there as well. But as you take this, and if we were blowing this back up toward the north, that's why probably the concentrations were in Midtown at that point.

And we're also seeing concentrations of the smell from the East River, all the way over to the west side highway. And here's Midtown, where Rockefeller Center did have the smell as well.

So, try to chase it back basically. It's basically trying to chase down an area. If you can chase the wind, you can chase the area, you can chase the detection, you can chase the area that the gas smell is coming out of.

When you get south of there, because the wind is coming from the south, you don't smell it anymore, then you know that leak is coming from north of you. So they're trying to do that now as they get around downtown.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Chad, the mayor said a small gas leak. He actually said Bleecker and Fourth. But we have been reporting Bleecker and Sixth.

MYERS: Oh, all right. OK.

COLLINS: Yes, we'll continue to look at that to determine exactly where it is coming from. But he did say they happen all the time, and oftentimes they add this chemical called mercaptan so that you can actually detect and smell the natural gas because normally you can't.

So, apparently, it's a pretty nasty smell when that is out there. So we are hearing that clearly today.

Chad Myers, thanks so much for that, watching the winds for us in Manhattan.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And if you're just joining us, the top of the hour here, welcome to the CNN NEWSROOM -- Tony Harris and Heidi Collins.

We're following the latest developments in this story. As we always say, the news keeps coming. We certainly keep bringing it to you.

Let's check in with Mary Snow now.

And Mary, you listened to the press conference, watched it, as well, from the mayor. He did describe this as a small gas leak. He added that the gas leak does not explain the smell that has been described as pervasive throughout Manhattan.

Kind of parse that out for us, please.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Tony. Really still a mystery, and what the mayor did was kind of clarify some of these conflicting we've heard earlier this morning, confirming that, yes, there was a small gas leak at Bleecker and Sixth Avenue, which is in Greenwich Village, downtown Manhattan. But as you said, he said the department -- the emergency departments in New York are still investigating the source, because the smell was so pervasive that this small gas leak, which he said happens all the time, couldn't really account for this pervasive odor.

The important thing he said was that at this point there was no danger posed, that there have been several air quality tests taken, and that there also were no injuries reported.

Earlier this morning, we had reported that the PATH train had suspended service along some of its route. That service has been restored.

Also, you may have heard at the news conference that some buildings had evacuated as a precaution, but the mayor saying that any kind of suspension in service or offices that had evacuated temporarily have been allowed back in. Some buildings, like the building that we're in right now, announced that they would shut off the air intake and circulate interior air. And the mayor had advised residents to ventilate, put fans on, open windows to try and get the air circulating, if it was uncomfortable.

But really a very mysterious story on a Monday morning.

HARRIS: Yes. And it sounds like, if we backtrack just a bit, the officials in New Jersey, the state police and the office of management -- emergency management there -- they had it correct in the earliest reporting that was coming into you and that you later transmitted to us.

SNOW: Right. So there has been -- there has been a gas leak, as officials from New Jersey said.

HARRIS: Yes.

SNOW: Whether or not it accounts for this pervasive odor is an entirely different question.

HARRIS: Right.

SNOW: And that's what we really don't know at this point.

HARRIS: OK, so a small gas leak. Con Edison reporting no pressure drop to indicate something huge, and that the air quality is OK.

Mary Snow reporting, following developments on this story from New York City for us.

COLLINS: Let's go back just a moment, if we could. We had been waiting for quite some time to hear from Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Normally he has a press conference about 10:00 or so every week to address concerns of the city.

Today it was a little late. I imagine he was probably getting briefed on the situation. So we want to go ahead and take you back to that press conference and listen in to a couple of things he said there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK CITY: As far as we know, the following is true: There was a small gas leak down at Bleecker and Sixth. These things are normal, happen all the time, and maybe everybody's sensitivity was a little bit heightened because of that.

That could not account for the smell that is so pervasive in a broad area. So it's obviously the smell is coming from something else.

Let me point out that one cannot smell natural gas. Natural gas is a colorless, an odorless gas. But there is a chemical that is added to natural gas deliberately, mercaptan, and it's added so that it does have a smell, so that if there is a leak in your house, you will know it and can take appropriate steps. And so what you're smelling is mercaptan, which may or may not come from treated natural gas or may be a leak of that particular chemical on its own. At this point, we don't know.

What we do know is that we're investigating and we don't believe there's been any injuries because of this. We've had many calls to 911, much more than is typical for a Monday morning but well within our capabilities of handling that.

Our police department and fire department, Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Environmental Protection, Health Department, Coast Guard and Con Ed are all working together to try to pinpoint the nature of the leak. If it is natural gas, we'll identify its source, obviously, and shut it down. We have been in touch with Con Ed, but they're not reporting any drop in pressure that would be the kind of thing you would expect if there was a large break to their gas system.

Generally, the concentrations of the gas aren't strong enough to be harmful, but the smell of mercaptan certainly is unpleasant. And our suggestion is that people should do the best to ventilate areas, open their windows, or turn on any fans until this gas passes, and this will help them get fresh oxygen.

The EDP is out there with their mobile labs, and they don't find any high concentration of natural gas either. So it may just be an unpleasant smell, but at this point we don't know any more than that. The one thing we are very confident of is it is not dangerous. But how long and what the sources are, we just don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Another nasty smell in New York, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as you saw there in his press conference moments ago about the situation we've been reporting all morning long here, a pervasive gas odor that people have been reporting. But according to the mayor, not dangerous. You should turn on your fans and open your windows in order to get this smell to dissipate.

Mercaptan is something that he has explained is used oftentimes so that you can detect natural gas odors and track them down so as to find your way to the leak. There has been a small leak reported at Bleecker and Sixth. I thought that he had said Fourth at one time in that press conference, not true. Bleecker and Sixth, and Greenwich Village area there.

So want to go ahead and go back out to Alina Cho, who is at Columbus Circle, to find out what you smell, Alina. That is the question of the day, apparently.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is if you live in the New York City area, or as far away as Newark, New Jersey, for that matter, Heidi.

There was the reports of the smell there. Hundreds of calls pouring into the city. But I think it bears repeating, straight from the mayor's mouth, no cause for concern.

They are still investigating, because there is this pervasive smell that was reported earlier this morning. There were building evacuations, but the city did conduct air quality tests and determined that the air is not hazardous. The Department of Homeland Security reporting that they're monitoring the situation but that there are no links to terrorism.

But we can tell you from people on the street here, that they're walking around, many people probably unaware of what's going on, maybe even thinking that we're doing a live shot on the weather. But nonetheless, the air, the wind and the rain is helping the situation here, but early this morning there were reports, hundreds of calls into the city, of a pervasive, mysterious odor that stretched from Midtown Manhattan to Battery Park City, from the Hudson River to the East River, as far away as Newark, New Jersey.

The calls came into 911. The mayor said more than a typical Monday but nothing that they couldn't handle. All of the agencies on this, the New York Police Department, the fire department, the Coast Guard, Con Edison as well.

One thing that the mayor pointed out, that the source of the leak was in lower Manhattan, as we've been reporting, in the Greenwich Village area of Bleecker and Sixth Avenue. But he did say that that small leak would not account for the pervasive smell that people have been reporting throughout the island of Manhattan.

Again, they are still investigating, Heidi, and we will bring you more as we get more information from the city.

COLLINS: All right. Alina Cho, thanks so much for the update, coming to us live from Columbus Circle.

HARRIS: So where do we stand now? The mayor moments ago saying that there was a small gas leak, Sixth and Bleecker, New York City. Con Edison reporting no pressure job, which would indicate a big break in a gas line. Air quality OK.

The mayor also saying that the smell of gas, the gas leak, the mercaptan, the odorant that is added to natural gas and propane, may or may not explain the pervasive reporting of a smell throughout much of Manhattan, from Midtown to Battery Park, from the Hudson River to the East River.

We will continue to follow this story and bring you the latest information as we get it.

You are watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Back to the story that we've been following this morning in the Manhattan area.

It all began around 9:00 or so, when several calls started coming in about a pervasive gas odor all across the area. This was going from Midtown to Battery Park City, from the Hudson River to the East River. It's just a very large area, and somewhat curious as to how it could cover such a large area.

We learned recently from Mayor Michael Bloomberg that there was a small gas leak that happened around Bleecker and Sixth, but that that couldn't account for such broad reporting, as we've mentioned here, of a bad smell. Also mentioned this chemical mercaptan that is deliberately added to natural gas so that you may detect where a possible leak may be coming from, nasty-smelling chemical.

And everybody's working on this -- police, fire, Office of Emergency Management, EPA, Coast Guard, Health Department, and of course, Con Edison.

Important to point out, of course, that this has been deemed not a dangerous smell. That, according to the mayor. And also, that the city's air sensors, of which they have many all across the city, are not reporting any elevated levels of gas.

So that being said, want to go ahead and get out to -- we have one of our reporters on the scene going to be telling us -- actually, you know what, let's go ahead and listen in for a moment, just in case you missed it, to some of the sound from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his weekly press conference, where he first took questions on this smell across New York City.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK CITY: As far as we know, the following is true: There was a small gas leak down at Bleecker and Sixth. These things are normal, happen all the time, and maybe everybody's sensitivity was a little bit heightened because of that.

That could not account for the smell that is so pervasive in a broad area. So it's obviously the smell is coming from something else.

Let me point out that one cannot smell natural gas. Natural gas is a colorless, an odorless gas. But there is a chemical that is added to natural gas deliberately, mercaptan, and it's added so that it does have a smell, so that if there is a leak in your house, you will know it and can take appropriate steps. And so what you're smelling is mercaptan, which may or may not come from treated natural gas or may be a leak of that particular chemical on its own. At this point, we don't know.

What we do know is that we're investigating and we don't believe there's been any injuries because of this. We've had many calls to 911, much more than is typical for a Monday morning but well within our capabilities of handling that.

Our police department and fire department, Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Environmental Protection, Health Department, Coast Guard and Con Ed are all working together to try to pinpoint the nature of the leak.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: There you heard it from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, talking about this smell that has been smelled all over New York City. Talking about mercaptan, this chemical that is added to natural gas in order to detect it, because there is no smell and no color to natural gas, of course.

Want to go ahead and bring in Soledad O'Brien, who is standing at Columbus Circle now, to give us her sense of the picture -- Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And, you know, it's quite a miserable day out here, Heidi, and that's actually a good thing for this smell, is what we're being told. It helps kind of wash it all away.

You heard from Mayor Bloomberg just a little while ago. And as you know, the area affected Midtown, all the way down to Battery City. But at the mayor's press conference, he raised an interesting point about mercaptan, because he pointed out there's been no pressure drop in the natural gas line, there has been no increased concentration of natural gas on any of the sensors. And so he says nothing would really at this point explain this strong smell.

So he talked about mercaptan. Maybe, potentially it could be a mercaptan leak, and as he pointed out, it's an additive to natural gas. It's a thing that makes you smell natural gas. Natural gas has no smell, so it's a way, in fact, in which to protect people.

The actual name is methanethiol mercaptan. It's a colorless gas, but it has a smell like rotten cabbage, and that's what many people were complaining about this morning.

Even upstairs on our floor -- and we're about 60th and Midtown here -- you could smell it very strongly, even inside the building. Alina earlier was talking to a guy who was evacuated from his building. We didn't evacuate. And, in fact, some of the schools downtown that we've spoken to as well said they didn't see the need to evacuate. They felt that the children would be safer inside, until at least it was explained.

But as it stands right now, the smell's dissipating. The last few people I've spoken to have said they don't smell anything. In fact, weren't even aware that there was some kind of mysterious smell wafting over.

Right now, whether it's because it's washed away, or because whatever the leak was or whatever it was has stopped, we smell nothing right now. And it seems to be not really affecting people who are walking in this area at the latest moment. But, of course, as the mayor said, he is confident that it is not dangerous, and that is the last word that he had at his press conference -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Turn on the fans and open your windows is what they're saying.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

COLLINS: But, of course, then you have to watch out for the wind and the rain, I guess.

O'BRIEN: Which is what we're getting.

COLLINS: All right.

Soledad O'Brien coming to us live from Columbus Circle there, trying to update the situation for you that we've been following all morning about a nasty smell in New York City that has been reported in a very, very large section. So the mayor telling us that it is not dangerous. They are trying to get to the root of the problem that we believe began at Sixth and Bleecker there, with a small gas leak. Apparently quite common.

So we will continue to follow this story for you.

HARRIS: The fight for Iraq, the struggle for a new direction. President Bush is finishing work on a new approach to the war. Sources tell CNN he wants to send in at least 20,000 more U.S. troops. Details in a primetime speech now set for Wednesday night.

CNN White House Correspondent Elaine Quijano joins us now with the latest.

And Elaine, so the day and time are set.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Good morning to you, Tony.

Yes, we knew the president would unveil his Iraq strategy this week. And now, in fact, we do have that specific date and time. It will be Wednesday. The White House has asked the television networks for about 25 minutes of prime time. Wednesday at 9:00 Eastern Time is when the president will be making this speech.

Now, sources close to the president, and who are familiar with his deliberations, tell CNN that around-the-clock sessions really are what White House speechwriters engaged in to work on this address. White House Press Secretary Tony Snow told reporters earlier this morning that there haven't been any run-throughs just yet, but certainly the president has had time to review what he called preliminary drafts.

Now, over the next couple of days, of course, we expect the president to rework that speech, but we're told the plan, of course, while it's not final yet, certainly there are elements upon which there is widespread agreement. And one of those elements, of course, sending as many as 20,000 U.S. troops into Iraq, to Baghdad, perhaps other areas, expanding the training of Iraqi forces.

Also, on the economic front, a new jobs program costing about $1 billion. And a focus on reconstruction as well, specifically beefing up teams to coordinate local reconstruction projects with Iraqi companies.

And on the political side, we do expect President Bush to express confidence in Iraq's prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, as he continues to deal with the sectarian violence plaguing his country.

Again, Tony, though, that speech by the president expected Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time -- Tony.

HARRIS: Long awaited.

Elaine Quijano for us at the White House.

Elaine, thank you.

COLLINS: Pouring more U.S. troops into Iraq, our next guest has argued for that even before the invasion. He'll explain when he joins us in the NEWSROOM.

And a possible breakthrough in stem cell research. Scientists now using a new source to get those building blocks, but will it change the ethical and political debate?

That's ahead in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Quickly, we want to update you on the story that we have been following all morning long.

New York City, a nasty smell has been reported beginning at about 9:00 or so this morning. Lots and lots of 911 calls going in, all the way from Midtown to Battery City Park, and then from the Hudson River to the East River, which is, in case you're not familiar with the city, a very, very large area.

We have learned from the mayor there was a small gas leak at Sixth and Bleecker, which is the Greenwich Village area. And now there is a smell in the air which he says is mercaptan.

Mercaptan, a deliberately added chemical so that you can smell natural gas. And possibly those who are trying to plug the small leak can get straight to where that leak came from.

Once again, the mystery here is that that does not account for the smell so far away from Sixth and Bleecker. So we continue to follow this story. Apparently, mercaptan is what people of New York are smelling now, as the wind and rain there -- you can see it all coming down -- helped to dissipate that nasty smell.

We'll stay on top of it for you, as always.

HARRIS: The fight for Iraq and the battle over a new direction in the war. President Bush is hammering out details of a new strategy. Sources tell CNN that he wants to send in 20,000 more U.S. troops to Baghdad and elsewhere in the region. It is not clear if they would be deployed in a trickle or a flood.

President Bush is expected to unveil details of his plan in a primetime speech now scheduled for Wednesday. Already, Democrats are voicing skepticism. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the president should not expect Congress to issue a blank check on troop increases.

Our next guest has long argued for bolstering U.S. troop strength in Iraq to help stabilize the country. Frederick Kagan is a military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. And he joins us this morning from New York.

Fred, great to talk with you. Thanks for your time this morning.

FREDERICK KAGAN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: It's good to be with you.

HARRIS: CNN is reporting that the president is considering a surge of 20,000 or more troops in either a big bang or a phased-in approach tied to benchmarks, benchmarks tied to the Iraqi government and its performance.

Which approach do you think is best?

KAGAN: Well, it's going to take a certain amount of time to get the forces into the theater, whatever we do. The question is, how do we start employing them?

I think it's important to wait until we have sufficient forces on the ground actually to be able to make the strategy work. We're facing a very adaptive and reactive enemy here, and if we start trying to roll forces in and get going as the forces become available, I think we really run the risk of the enemy's going to be able to hurt us in areas where we don't have troops and when we don't have a reserve ready. So I think a rolling start would be a mistake.

HARRIS: OK. So a rolling start would be a mistake. So you would -- you would encourage an idea of assembling the troops and then moving them in?

KAGAN: Yes, assembling the troops and then -- and then really commencing the operation all at once, as much as possible.

HARRIS: Got you. Let's talk about the mission. The mission you describe is a mission of securing the Iraqi people.

How many Baghdad neighborhoods are we talking about? How many neighborhoods around the airport are we talking about?

KAGAN: Well, in the plan that we laid out on Friday, we're talking about -- about 23 districts, and they're in the vicinity of the Baghdad International Airport and the Green Zone, and just across the river from the Green Zone. And these are Sunni and mixed Sunni- Shia neighborhoods where there's been a lot of violence that we really need to get under control and we really need to protect the population in those areas.

HARRIS: Is controlling the violence in these mixed -- and that's what you're talking about here, correct, these mixed Sunni-Shia areas?

KAGAN: Primarily, yes.

HARRIS: OK. Is that a more important mission now than marching into Sadr City and crushing Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army?

KAGAN: I think it's both a more important issue and a better idea. I really think if we charge into Sadr City right now, we run the risk of uniting the Mehdi army with Hakim's Badr corps, really uniting all of the Shia fighters against us, probably leading to the fall of the Maliki government.

And the force requirements for taking down Sadr City at this point are larger, I think, than what we're likely to have available. And it wouldn't take care of the Sunni insurgency, either, which is the engine that's really been driving all of this violence. So I think it would be a mistake.

HARRIS: General Odierno, as you know, is one of the generals on the ground there. And in a piece in "The New York Times" today is suggesting that, take on Sadr City.

KAGAN: Well, I understand the concern. I mean, the Mehdi is attacking regularly into the areas that we're talking about clearing, it's responsible for a large number of American casualties. Clearly, we're going to have to deal with Sadr and the Mehdi army.

I think it's a question of phasing. At what point do we want to go after Sadr City? And I think, from an Iraqi political standpoint, if nothing else, it would be a big mistake to start off by going after Sadr City and the Mehdi army.

HARRIS: Do -- we may know where the trouble spots are, but do we know who the bad guys are in the trouble spots? How do we identify them?

KAGAN: Well, we -- I suspect we do, to a large extent. We have a lot of troops operating in this area already. We would be adding a lot more. And one of the reasons not to go through a rolling start, but to wait until we've managed to get ready, is that you would have more troops preparing those neighborhoods and finding out exactly where the bad guys are.

That's one of the things you do before you begin major operations. So yes, I mean, we can figure out who the bad guys are and round them up. That's what the clear and hold would do.

HARRIS: Are we talking about checkpoints, or are we talking about neighborhood-to-neighborhood, door-to-door, building-to-building fighting?

KAGAN: We're talking about door to door, every building in the neighborhood, every house, every mosque, every apartment, you look at every square foot. We've done this before on numerous occasions, but what we haven't done is stayed behind to make sure that we keep the security that we've establish. And that's what's got to change here.

HARRIS: And what about the prospect of U.S. forces being led into booby traps in homes, in buildings and cars?

KAGAN: Well, the enemy will try to do that, but our forces have a lot of experience doing this by now. They'll work together with Iraqi partners, and they'll take every effort to mitigate those risks.

HARRIS: Frederick Kagan is a military analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Fred, thanks for your time.

KAGAN: You bet. Good to talk to you.

COLLINS: 11:30 Eastern Time now.

We want to go back and take you to the story we have been following all morning in New York City. A nasty smell there that has been reported all over a very wide area, from midtown to Battery Park City, and Hudson River to the East River. We have learned from the mayor, a small gas leak, which apparently, according to him, is quite common, at Bleecker and Sixth. That's the Greenwich Village area. Also spoke quite a bit about mercaptan (ph), which is a chemical that is deliberately added to natural gas, Because natural gas is odorless and colorless, this helps those people who are trying to determine exactly where the leak could be coming from to get straight to it so they can track it down.

The only question here that still remains is that smell is much further away from Bleecker and Sixth, where they have detected a small gas leak. So according to the mayor, even though the smell is the same, he has said that it's mercaptan that people are smelling all over the place. Still not sure why it is so far away from the actual small gas leak that they have been able to find at this point.

Want to go ahead and get an update from CNN's Jennifer Westhoven. She is in New York City.

And, Jennifer, I know you actually smelled the gas yourself. Is that as you were coming to work this morning?

JENNIFER WESTHOVEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I was already at work, but I stepped outside just to run an errand across the street here, you know, at the Time Warner Center, which is at 59th Street, and at the time, earlier, you definitely get a little bit of a smell in the air. And it was, you know, the kind of smell, like, when you light your oven, if you've got a gas stove, right before it catches. And you know, very faint; it wasn't like people weren't stopping what they were doing and panicking, but you could -- it was still there.

And when I went into the mall, you know, there's a shopping mall downstairs from the CNN Center here, you could also smell it a little bit there. And things were pretty quiet there, but in the elevator, there was someone who seemed to work for the building, and he was talking to someone, saying they had had some complaints and they were talking to Con Edison.

COLLINS: So as you walked through the mall area, that, as you said, is right downstairs, anybody talking about it?

WESTHOVEN: Well, really, it was so quiet in the mall, but only because it was so early, because I started to think, hmm, is anyone noticing this smell? But there weren't too many people around. But you know, we are about 55 blocks north from Bleecker and Sixth is. So it really is quite pervasive.

But again, you know, nobody really seemed nervous about it. And then of course, then you start seeing it all over the news and realizing it's all over Manhattan, and it starts to seem a little scarier.

COLLINS: Yes, perfectly well understood. And it bears repeating, too, that we did have a producer up on 168th Street, much, much further away from where the Time Warner Center is there, also reporting a bit of a smell up there.

What I have learned about this mercaptan is that apparently, when it's used, it really sticks around for a long, long time, as opposed to, you know, the smell of like propane, that you mentioned, Jennifer.

WESTHOVEN: Yes.

COLLINS: Go ahead.

WESTHOVEN: And I feel like that is a little bit of the smell. You know, if you've ever had a gas leak in your apartment, you know that that smell does stick around for a long time. And it is the kind of smell that you notice right away, which is why they add it in.

COLLINS: Yes. And it's nerve-racking, no question about it.

Jennifer Westhoven, thanks for reporting to us.

It bears repeating once again that according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who held a press conference moments ago, his regular weekly press conference, he addressed the situation and said that this is not a dangerous smell that is in the air, and the city's air sensors are not reporting any elevated levels of gas, no drop in pressure, in the gas system, which of course if there was a drop in pressure, that would indicate that there was some sort of break in the gas line. So that's all according to Con Edison, as the mayor reported to us just moments ago.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HARRIS: On the line with us right now is Mike Brooks, our law enforcement analyst.

Mike, what are your sources telling you about this episode this morning?

MIKE BROOKS, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Tony, they're telling me that right now all of the air sampling that they're doing throughout the city, as you know there are a number of air-detector stations, if you will, throughout the city and also in the subway system. And the Office of Emergency Management, along with the fire department and police department and emergency services have been going through with portable detectors. And right now they have not found any large concentrations or any, you know, over-concentrations of natural gas anywhere in the city. Everything is normal level. It's measured in parts per million, and there has been no increase in any of the detection at all.

And we were just listening to what Chad was talking about with the chemical. I'm also told it's added to natural gas. I'm told that also in some of these areas like Greenwich Village, where there's a high concentration of people, that there is more of this chemical that is sometimes put into the system so leaks can be detected quickly. And -- but there, again, even with a small leak like we know about that in Greenwich Village, it still would not put out as much of a pervasive odor as they're getting right now.

But people from the fire department, and my sources at fire department, police and OEM are telling me there are no elevated levels of natural gas anywhere in the city right now.

HARRIS: Hey, Mike, just a quick question on procedure and process. It was troubling to me, and maybe just to me, that it took so long for the Office of Emergency Management in New York, in New Jersey to come together, particularly the office in New York, to be very clear about what we were all dealing with here. All of the officials in New Jersey seemed very clear that the problem was not in New Jersey, it was a New York problem, and that they were getting that information from the Office of Emergency Management in New York, and yet, we were still very unclear until the mayor's press conference. Talk to us about this coordination, because we need this to work.

BROOKS: Well, you know, I think that there's more coordination going on than probably was what we see and what's given out to the media in the early stages of something like this, Tony. Because what they want to do, is you've got police, fire and EMS all responding to different 911 calls, and they wanted to make sure that they had, you know -- they were crossing all the t's and dotting all their i's and it was a coordinated effort between all the agencies involved before they put anything out to the public.

But I see your point and I can understand your point and why people would be frustrated, you know, not knowing exactly what was going on in the early stages of this. But I do know that the Emergency Management Offices between New York and New Jersey were talking, and that's why New Jersey was so clear as to say no, it's not coming from here, it's coming from New York City. They knew it was coming from New York City. I just don't think they had a pretty good handle on what the exact source of the odor was early on.

HARRIS: Got you.

All right, our law enforcement analyst Mike Brooks for us. Mike, appreciate it as always.

Good to talk to you. Thanks.

COLLINS: Want to go ahead now and go back to one of our correspondents out on the streets of New York City. Alina Cho has been standing out in front of Columbus Circle, Time Warner Center there, and kind of monitoring the situation for us, as we see lots more traffic now. And not sure if you had an opportunity to talk to people on the streets, Alina, but what's the latest from where you're standing?

CHO: Well, people going about their business, taking this in stride, Heidi, and that is the good news. Certainly, the city has responded, the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, held a news conference about an hour ago. And basically, the headline is, no cause for concern.

The city has conducted air quality tests -- ignore the honking -- the city has conducted air quality tests and has determined that the air is not hazardous, the air is not hazardous. That is the good news.

People, again, taking it in stride, but quite a different situation earlier this morning where there was a pervasive, mysterious odor reported throughout the island of Manhattan from Midtown to Battery Park City, from river to river, as far away as Newark, New Jersey there were reports of a mysterious smell.

Hundreds of calls poured into the city to 911, much more than a typical Monday. But not anything that the city could not handle. Thankfully, no injuries have been reported, but there were several building evacuations, including a building not far from here, about ten blocks south of here.

I spoke to a man earlier this morning who said that they smelled something in the building around 48th and Sixth Avenue, smelled something shortly thereafter. There was a loudspeaker announcement saying that the building should be evacuated. The good news is, is he gets the day off where he is heading home.

Now we should explain something, because the mayor did say about an hour ago that there was a small gas leak, a very small gas leak in lower Manhattan in the Greenwich Village section, but that he said that would not account for the pervasive, mysterious smell throughout the island of Manhattan.

They are still investigating, Heidi, and of course, if we hear anything from the city, we will get back to you right away.

COLLINS: Yes, and it is a little bit confusing, too, Alina, because he went on to say, what you are smelling is mercaptan. He did not distinguish between people near the Sixth and Bleecker area in Greenwich Village and people over in Battery City Park.

CHO: No, he didn't.

COLLINS: Right.

CHO: You're absolutely right. He did try to explain that natural gas is colorless and odorless, but this mercaptin is an additive, and perhaps that is what people are smelling. He did say, one bit of advice, if you do smell anything in your building and you can, try to open your windows, ventilate the area, and that might help. Another thing that's helping, this wind and rain here that we so dislike is helping the situation, sort of washing everything away in terms of the smell.

But again, the city still trying to figure out exactly the source of this leak and exactly what happened. And as soon as we hear something, Heidi, we'll get that information to you.

COLLINS: Absolutely and important to notice sort of the words on the bottom of the screen there -- air quality OK, not a hazardous chemical that people are apparently smelling in the air and not dangerous.

So Alina Cho, appreciate your words from out on the street there. And we will move on.

HARRIS: Well, sort of. We will come back to this in just a moment. But just a quick reset here. Authorities are investigating this mysterious and pervasive odor, possibly gas, that has been reported throughout New York City, mainly in Manhattan, but as far away as Newark, New Jersey.

But according to the New York Police Department and the mayor, air quality tests have found the air is not hazardous and Mayor Michael Bloomberg assured residents that the situation is not, is not hazardous.

You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: Let's bring you the latest on the story we've been following through most of the morning, out of New York City. Authorities there investigating this mysterious and pervasive odor that's been reported by many people of possibly gas that has been reported not only in New York City, mainly in Manhattan on the island there, and as far away as Newark, New Jersey.

But according to New York police and the mayor's office, Mayor Michael Bloomberg just moments ago saying the situation is not hazardous. Air quality tests have found that the air is not hazardous. Mayor Bloomberg from a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: So far, the city's air sensors -- and we have multiple of these located around the city -- do not report any elevated level of natural gas. There are no unusual levels.

There have been some precautions that have been taking place -- the MTA for awhile closed the 23rd Street station, but they've reopened that. Port authority had suspended PATH trains on the northern leg that runs to 34th Street. I have not gotten word that's been resumed again. The southern PATH trains that run to the World Trade Center site, however, are still operating and the MTA is also temporarily evacuated a control tower at West 4th Street, but since then, even that's been reoccupied.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Mayor Michael Bloomberg from a short time ago. Our Susan Lisovicz, her usual post is at the New York Stock Exchange. That brings us closer to the area that we're talking about now.

Susan, help us, from your perspective, did you smell anything? And what did you hear from folks you talked to?

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's interesting, no, I didn't smell anything, and that may be, Tony, because I have a cold.

HARRIS: Oh, OK.

LISOVICZ: But it's been business as usual here. Bell went off as usual, no announcements, no departures here at the NYSE to speak of. But I called a bunch of traders from a wide variety of trading floors, not only downtown, but also midtown as well as other cities outside of New York, and what the consensus is the market was going to go down anyway.

Little bit of nervousness that we saw last week. The Dow is actually down in the first few trading days of the year. But these kind of headlines, when you see these kind of headlines, and these kind of initial reports, it spooks the market. And so the Dow is still down, but it's well off its low.

The bluechips were actually down 55 points earlier in the session. The mayor has reassured everyone that everybody is safe, that this is certainly nothing related to any sort of terrorism attack or anything, but in New York, when you hear something about the financial capital of the world and pervasive fumes, traders are not unlike journalists sometimes, they want to be first.

HARRIS: Yes.

LISOVICZ: So if the market's going to be down, there will be a reaction first, and then they'll start bringing the market back, and that's kind of what we're seeing today.

It's kind of a slow day in general, Tony, because we're right in the lull before the fourth quarter earnings parade starts to come in. There's not a whole lot of news out there, but the market was still sort of spooked from last week and this sort of accelerated, this according to a couple traders who I spoke to this morning.

HARRIS: So, how about that? A little breaking news and a business report as well. Susan Lisovicz for us. Susan, we appreciate it, thank you. A possible breakthrough in stem cell research. Scientists now reporting encouraging results from tests on embryonic stem cells. Those cells come from amniotic fluid in the womb and can also be taken from the placenta after birth.

The availability may be the best news here, along with the fact that the use of these cells would be less politically and ethically charged than embryonic stem cells and they may be more effective than adult stem cells.

So far, the amniotic cells have shown the ability to become bone, muscle, and nerve cells, but researchers say, well, they're still many years away from using them in humans.

CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins me now to help us sort through this. How did I do, okay so far?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You did great. I was very impressed. I could go home now.

HARRIS: No, no, no, stay right here. Help us sort of sort through all of this.

COHEN: Right. This is potentially a very exciting discovery, because what these researchers at Wake Forest and Harvard found is that they could get stem cells without destroying an embryo. So where did they get them?

Well, as Tony said, from amniotic fluid. Now, any mom over the age of 35 when she was pregnant knows that women have amniocentisis all the time. A doctor puts a needle into the uterus and extracts the fluid anyhow, so the thinking is gee, maybe those cells could actually be used not just to help that woman that is pregnant, but could be used to make stem cells and you avoid that ethical dilemma.

There's not a lot of ethical problems about having an amino, women do it all the time. I've done it, lot of moms have done it, but embryonic stem cell research involves destroying embryos, which people do have a problem with.

So again, two different ways of getting stem cells, one from destroying embryos and another one from using amniotic fluid from a amniosentesis or similar procedures.

Now, the big question is, when they get the cells from amnios, are they as useful as the ones that they get when they destroy embryos? That is the big question mark. Only time will tell. Certainly, results at this point appear to be promising. But really, only time will tell.

HARRIS: So, Elizabeth, how soon, time will tell, can you give us kind of a ballpark of how soon before we can begin to see some of the fruits of this research?

COHEN: Well, I asked the researcher himself that very question, and he said years. You have to remember, we hear about stem cells all the time, but there is not a single sick person who has been helped from either embryonic or amniotic stem cells.

It just hasn't happened. They've helped sick mice, but they haven't helped sick people yet. So he did say he thought less than a decade. Some people would probably say that even that's a little bit too optimistic.

HARRIS: OK, thank you. That was great. We all thought that was wonderful. Elizabeth Cohen for us, thank you, Elizabeth.

And we're going to take a break and come back with more of our breaking news story. New developments out of New York City. This investigation continuing right now into this mysterious, pervasive odor that's been reported throughout the morning, possibly gas. We're back after this. You're in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Back quickly now to the story we've been following this morning about a strange and not very pleasant smell that has been smelled all across New York City, specifically from midtown to Battery Park City, Hudson River to the East River, a really large area there.

And as we watch the rain come down and the winds pick up a bit, we are learning, at least from our correspondents on the ground, that that smell is finally starting to dissipate.

But we have been told by the mayor of New York City that this is not a dangerous chemical that is in the air. We've learned a little bit about mercaptin, which is a manufactured chemical that is added to natural gas in order to find the origin of a leak, which has been found, at least one small leak, found at Bleecker and Sixth Avenue. That's in the Greenwich Village area.

So we want to go ahead and update the story now with Deb Feyerick. She is actually at Madison Square Garden. And Deb, we haven't spoken to anyone in that area yet. Tell us the latest from where you are.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are at Madison Square Garden and we can tell you that everyone from police to fire to Coast Guard trying to determine what the the source of this smell is.

The smell here at Madison Square Garden is still very thick in the air, kind of like the smell you get at a gas station and what makes it so strange as you mentioned is that it stretches for a couple of miles along Manhattan.

Now, there was a small gas leak down in Greenwich Village, but the mayor said this is not big enough to account for the smell that was caused this morning. The mayor saying that air tests did not find any hazardous substances and that the levels did not reach dangerous levels at all.

There is no large leak and no drop in pressure as noted by the gas company. Now, reports this morning do say that some buildings were evacuated. Others shut down or reversed their air systems, as happened at the Time Warner Center, where we work.

We can tell you now, as they did try to determine the smell and where it was coming from, the Coast Guard has also been checking maritime facilities as well as vessels on the river to determine whether in fact maybe that's the source.

But right now, as the smell kind of blows away with the wind, people just talking about it and getting on as they normally do, waiting for the smell to die down -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, great point, too. Remember as we continue to discuss the story here on CNN, the city's air sensors, which are placed all over the city, do not report any elevated levels of gas.

And we are told by the mayor, who has had several reports coming into him for all sorts of different agencies -- to be specific, police, fire, office of emergency management, EPA, health department, Coast Guard, Con Ed -- that this is not dangerous.

So it is good news, at least at this point. We'll continue to keep our eye on it for you, though, just because of the strange nature of it.

HARRIS: And you are back in the NEWSROOM an hour from now. I think we -- are we going to do this or do we have Joy Faber is on the line, a spokesperson from Con Ed. Joy, thanks for your time today.

JOY FABER, SPOKESPERSON, CON EDISON: Sure, no problem.

HARRIS: Joy, from your perspective, Con Ed's perspective, what's this story that we've been reporting this morning?

FABER: Well, our crews have been investigating the source of this smell since this incident began early this morning. We've checked buildings in the Manhattan area, we've been working with the city agencies, the mayor's office, the office of emergency management, the New York City Police Department, the fire department, to find the source of these odors.

So far, our Con Edison systems shows that we have found no gas leaks at this point. Now, there also has been no abnormal changes in the gas flow in our gas transmission line, and we've received multiple calls about this, as you would imagine, but so far, as I mentioned, we have found no gas leaks at this point.

HARRIS: So when you say no gas leak, that means no gas leak large or small?

FABER: That would be correct, but we're as I said, we're still investigating with all of the city agencies to find the source of this problem.

HARRIS: So what was the mayor talking about an hour ago when he said there was a small gas leak?

FABER: Well, the mayor did mention that there was a small leak and we're still looking into that at the moment, but our focus right now is to identify the source of the odors. The sources have actually dissipated according to our information that we have available here in New York City.

We, our gas territory extends over a broad area. We're continuing monitoring that at all times and we continue to work with the mayor's office as well.

HARRIS: So you haven't found anything at 6th and Bleecker?

FABER: No we have not at this point.

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