UBC researchers tracking stinky 'hotspots' in Metro Vancouver
Published Tuesday, December 8, 2020 4:06PM PST Last Updated Tuesday, December 8, 2020 9:45PM PST
VANCOUVER -- You can’t always see what’s in the air, but with one whiff, the nose can often tell something's off.
Two UBC researchers are hoping the public will put their olfactory nerves to the test helping them track all the stinky spots in Metro Vancouver.
“There's a big gap in the research about the links between odour and air pollution. Odours are typically treated like a nuisance and not like an actual thing that could be harmful to your health,” said Naomi Zimmerman, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering.
The researchers launched Smell Vancouver, a website and app where people can log where and when they detect a stench.
Smell Vancouver launched Tuesday and the public has already started to record their unpleasant odour experiences.
“What we are already seeing is there’s a range of different smells that people are experiencing,” said Amanda Giang, an assistant professor at UBC’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability.
“Some of the reports we've seen so far note smoky smells, wood-burning; other kinds of smells may be associated with garbage smells or decay smells, maybe associated animal processing, sewer smells; and some also that are a bit more chemical, so something that smells like nail polish remover.”
Once the researchers have a better idea of the so-called “smellscape” of the region, they take some air contaminant samplings to measure the air quality.
Smell Vancouver also asks the public to mark if they feel any symptoms in the foul-smelling area, such as dizziness, headache or nausea.
It also gives people the option to provide personal information, such as age range, gender, financial status and whether they identify as a visible minority.
“These sorts of things will help us identify if there are neighborhoods or communities that might be disproportionately experiencing odour and potentially have less financial means, and that’s potentially identifying the environmental justice issue,” said Zimmerman.
They said it is important to give people a way to report their concerns and see other people’s anonymous reports.
“For a lot of people, it was validating to know that you know it's not just me that’s experiencing that smell, and also empowering to be able to see that data,” said Giang.
The researchers teamed up with Metro Vancouver to help them form the questions in the survey. But to lodge a formal complaint, it still needs to be filed through the official channel.
They are also working with the BCCDC to help analyze any possible health implications of the odours.
Smell Vancouver will be up and running for two years.