Human "Sniff Team" Nose How To Catch Polluters


Do you hate walking into candle and soap shops, or drugstores that reek of perfume? That headachy and head-spinning feeling shouldn't be ignored. Chances are that you have sensitive olfactory glands warning you that something isn't good for your body. A whole host of nasty products go into synthetic smells, and some are poisonous. So if your nose knows that something isn't smelling right, it probably isn't. A team of Israeli "sniffers" have taken their smell sense to a whole new level and are cracking down on environmental polluters.

"We go to the place with at least four sniffers," says "sniff" team coordinator Yisrael Oppenheim, from the Ministry of Environmental Protection, "[we] stand at a few locations in the area of the odor source, and detect whether it is food aromas, chemicals or manure, and determine the intensity of the smell at that moment." Earlier this month, the team was at Frutarom Industries, a heavily-polluting flavor additives company. According to Haaretz, the sniffers each filled out an "odor nuisance report" to indicate the smells they detected and the intensity. 

"Now I smell guavas. They must me using guava extract now," said Anna Kitman, one of the sniffers, writing an X beside the 6 on her form to indicate the highest odor intensity, defined as "insufferable." 

The kind of odor and its intensity depends on the weather and wind direction, report the sniff squad. And when documented, the team coordinator adds the information to a file, which in Israel is admissible in court. This process of smell monitoring has been legislated in Israel since the 1960s; and human sniffers will continue to be used as long as odor detection technology remains less sensitive than the human nose.

"The human nose is extremely sensitive to odors," explains Oppenheim. "It's the best. There is measuring equipment for effluents and there are monitoring stations for measuring air pollution. There is even a new device for locating and classifying odors, but it does not measure concentrations. We still rely on our noses."

Women have a better sense of smell than men (the size of your nose is not a factor!), and the team undergoes a training course to determine odor thresholds and how to distinguish between smells.

One professional sniffer said that she would give up her job if polluters would stop contaminating the environment: "Factories, and people in general, need to be aware of the air quality, just as they are aware of the need to brush their teeth," she said. Related: Cars smells are toxic & Air pollution and cycling ::Haaretz