For people living in proximity to facilities like landfills, wastewater plants, transfer stations, food waste dumps, sewer systems, stormwater ponds, canals, livestock farms, etc., offensive odours are a main disturbance. Even if there is no evidence of sanitary or toxic risk this smells pose, people still feel unsafe because it is a collective imagination of associating bad smells to conditions of unhealthy air. The discussion on environmental air quality or air pollution does not usually include offensive odours. So also are studies on odour impact assessment despite the fact that people’s way of life, decisions or choices can be affected by offensive odours. Interestingly, Nigeria has odour control regulations in Part VII of Air Quality Control Gazette of 2014 under the NESREA Act, 2007 that clearly stipulates the standard odour emission limits/odour detection threshold. While many factors may account for lack of enforcement of the regulation, the public is required to direct their offensive odour complaints to the right authority frequently.
A study by Shusterman (2000), the health significance of environmental odour pollution, reveals common coping strategies people adopt in an odour-polluted environment, they are: keeping windows closed, staying indoors, staying away from home altogether, avoiding entertaining. The same study reveals many people who endure offensive environmental odours feel annoyed and/or “ill”, but have difficulty communicating their experiences with the authorities.
Impact of Odour Emissions
Why the conversation on offensive odour if the public concern is relatively low? Well, odours impact our health, social and economic way of life. According to studies published by Alberta government in 2017, residents of communities located near odour-emitting facilities generally report a higher number of health symptoms compared to residents who do not. The commonly reported symptoms include cough, nausea, congestion, eye irritation, headache, dizziness, sleep problems, diarrhea, chest pain, and respiratory symptoms. The coping strategies people adopt as referenced in the study by Shusterman (2000), mostly isolates rather than foster social gatherings and bonding. Other similar studies have associated offensive odours to annoyance, illness and other psychological reactions from people affected. In addition, property values of residential and commercial development are often impacted by the potential/existing odour coming from plants and facilities.
Odour Control Methods
To date most of the odour control technology being developed is based on chemical breakdown of odours using UV, ozone and biological filtration. The use of biocides to kill organisms that produce the offensive gases also affects the beneficial organisms. Another approach is by aeration or preventing septic conditions that result in odour production. This method is energy intensive and expensive. The least effective method is the use of chemical masking agents (Air fresheners) – which are often toxic and have limited human restrictions (due to allergies). A more sustainable and eco-friendly option is the biological treatment that reduces the activity of odour producing organisms such that offensive odours are reduced significantly with zero foot print on the environment.
Looking into the Future
There is a growing public awareness of the impact of poor air quality on health and well-being of humans. Consequently, facility managers, waste management operators, other stakeholders will have to pay more attention to their air quality control programs including odour impact assessments and odour measurements. With urbanization, people are likely to take up properties anywhere its available including areas isolated for landfill/wastewater/waste treatment facilities. Increases in land value and families seeking housing with reasonable price range are underlying factors that will drive the proximity to odour-producing facilities.