Ecology, Lifestyle

When the stench of development kills

A lack of urban planning is often responsible for conflict between people and industrial sites which, with their heavy load of unpleasant smells awakening energy reactions, the affected gain environmental awareness.


Roberto Hernández


Activities such as cattle farming, landfills and industrial operations do not always coexist peacefully within residential areas where residents demand that governments and companies put a stop to the pungent pollution.

Human reaction to the stench varies with people’s health, age, sex, personality, profession and previous experiences, but it is clear that it always threatens the quality of life.

In people, this type of phenomenon – which is little-documented in literature and the press – causes nausea, vomiting, headaches, stress, depression, eating disorders, insomnia, respiratory problems and loss of sensitivity through olfactory fatigue.

If that were not enough, its impact also makes it impossible to enjoy open spaces. The practical obligation to stay indoors, besides being an unpleasant experience, is related to higher energy consumption for lighting and ventilation.

Significant damage to industries such as restaurants and tourism add to property devaluation in places affected by such pollution, a cause of loud complaints whose colourful traces are left in blogs, newspapers and other information sources.

Animals do not escape these problems either, because the masking of aroma of species or ecosystems in general can affect functions such as orientation, defence against predators, reproduction and the search for food.

The value of the sense of smell is well known, being essential for survival within territorial boundaries, mating, the detection of predators, prey, contaminated food and identifying animal tracks.

The European Union and Japan are advanced in the regulatory field, in contrast with most countries facing technical and legal loopholes which prevent them from taking more serious measures against the sources of annoying odours.

In order to detect sources of contamination, analytical and sensory procedures are mainly employed.

In the first category are electronic detectors, gas chromatography, and colorimetric methods and in the second olfactometry excels, based on panels of experts.

Whilst other devices such as electronic noses are not yet perfected, olfactometry is presented as standard in these measurements, which follow the principle of accepting the lowest levels possible.

Depending on the substances and on the territorial concentration of emissions and while the sources have not been eliminated, some palliatives may be used against this threat to the environment.

Some solutions have included the use of vegetable filters as barriers, the treatment of effluent gases, dosing of some odorous products with other chemicals, and the employment of meteorological factors to optimise processes in the handling of contaminants.

Given the existing legal loopholes around the world, such complexities will be among the top ten problems in the next 40 years.

To make matters worse, the relationship between smell and perceived nuisance is difficult to determine, since it brings together the most objective physical and chemical factors, with other subjective ones which are more difficult to assess.

Beyond some existing consensus, who will define the measure of smell? (PL)

(Translated by Susan Seccombe – Email: ess.translations [@]


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