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Clearing the Air: A Community Research Guide on Air Quality and Respiratory Health

NJ DEP "Breath Easy" Pollution Data

Search for pollutant type by smell characteristic.

Environmental Odor FAQ

Community Member Assessment of Environmental Odors - ATSDR

Do you smell bad environmental odors in your community? How often? Every day or just once in a while?
Do they annoy you or make you feel sick?
How can you know how much environmental odor is too much and when an odor becomes a health hazard?

Everyone reacts to environmental odors differently. Some people are more sensitive to environmental odors than others. When you are more sensitive to an odor, you may have symptoms even at a low level of the odor in air. In general, as concentration levels increase, more people will have symptoms. If an environmental odor is affecting your daily life, you can get help. Your local health department or code enforcement agency1 can investigate odors and decide whether they are harmful. You can help them by keeping an odor diary.

Sign up for a free online citizen science workshop led by two Rowan University School of Earth and Environment Faculty.  Don't worry, if the workshop has filled up or you are not available, a recording with Spanish subtitles will be uploaded here.

Odor Pollution

These are unwanted odors that can exist in our environments from several sources including:

- Industry: oil refineries, landfills, incinerators, wastewater treatment plants, paper mills, dry cleaners, port activity, melting smelting and scrap yards
- Nature: fires, moist soil, stagnant ponds
- Vehicles: diesel exhaust and other types of exhaust
- Animals: Confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’S), manure

Photo of a sign in South Camden New Jersey stating "No big trucks"
Photograph credit: Fred R. Conrad/The Guardian

Researchers and government officials are beginning to use tools called Olfactometers to more accurately measure odors in communities.

One example olfactometer is the "Nasalranger" displayed in the image to right.

Olfactometers are used in conjunction with your nose to scientifically measure how intense an odor in a standardized way.

Environmental justice communities such as Camden, NJ are frequently home to a variety of industrial sources of smells that can sometimes interfere with individuals health or wellbeing. 

While not all industrial odors are immediately harmful to your lungs or organs, there can be psychological or social effects from even non-toxic odors.

The figure above is from a recent study that measured odor pollution in the Waterfront South Neighborhood in Camden, NJ.

Figure 3. Example of odor data collected at each randomly selected sampling site in the Waterfront South neighborhood in Camden, NJ.
Link to the full study: 
Kitson J, Leiva M, Christman Z, Dalton P. Evaluating Urban Odor with Field Olfactometry in Camden, NJ. Urban Science. 2019 Sep;3(3):93. 

Are all Environmental Odors Toxic?

Developed resources reported in this project are supported by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), National Institutes of Health (NIH) under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012342 with the University of Pittsburgh, Health Sciences Library System. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.