Those “stinks” not only annoying that are really bad for your health

from Elena Meli

Living in a smelly environment is certainly bothersome and sometimes even causes damage to the body if harmful pollutants are responsible for the odors

According to the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, cities are smells. For him, Haifa means feeling the aroma of pines and crumpled sheets in the air but, it must be said, not all urban centers smell properly of roses and violets: more often, walking through our metropolises we feel it stinks of pollution, the smell of garbage, various human smells not quite pleasant or even fumes from nearby industrial plants. We shouldn’t bend to tolerate the annoyance they cause, because it is Olfactory harassmentas the title of a text presented at the National Research Council in Rome and written by national experts in the sector states to collect studies, ideas and reflections on the issue of odorous substances harmful to man and the environment.

The volume of the Cnr

The volume, created in the context of NOSE – Network for Odor Sensitivity project – and edited by experts from the CNR, from the universities of Trieste and Bari and from Arpa Sicilia, it first of all underlines the abundance of odorous substances released into the environment and was also born because, as explained by the president of the CNR Maria Chiara Carrozza, specific rules still remain to be adopted which, for example, set the limit values ​​for the hourly concentrations of odorous compounds such as
non-methane hydrocarbons, hydrogen sulfide and benzene
which is also listed as an important carcinogenic compound according toInternational Agency for Research on Cancer.

Harm to health

Yes, because stink harassment is not limited to the annoyance we feel when a pungent smell gets into our nose, but it can be a sign of damage to health: not all miasms carry certain health risks as in the case of stinking benzene, but the discomfort you feel living in a foul-smelling environment can affect the quality of life to such an extent that it is compatible with it definition of damage to health by the World Health Organization. Agricultural activities, industries, waste disposal or recovery plants are some of the activities they enter foul-smelling volatile compounds in the airwhich moreover often coincide with substances that pollute the environment, compromising the health of the ecosystem: in short, they are bad for soils and water, not just for our nose.

As he adds Gianluigi de Gennaro of the University of Bari, co-author of the volume, the smell of the air today widely recognized as essential environmental parameter to determine the quality of life, with significant effects on many activities, from tourism to the waste management cycle. In recent years, the establishment of plants capable of releasing olfactory miasmas in urbanized areas has multiplied the release of annoying odorous substances and generated growing concern for a “Olfactory pollution” often characterized by the unpredictability of the disorder, by the continuity over time and by the inability to defend oneself.

Environmental surveillance and web app

The stench cloud moves in all directions under the thrust of the wind, not easy to contain and creates discomfort, anxiety and even protests on the part of those who live near plants that emit nauseating exhalations; so, for example, according to European Union statistics olfactory pollution it records on average over 30 per cent of complaints and the main cause of environmental concern of citizens after noise. A first step to take is therefore environmental surveillance to monitor odor emissions: what they are and will be increasingly important electronic noses and instrumental odor monitoring systems, which can objectively determine the concentration of unpleasant molecules by exploiting dynamic olfactometry, a detection method defined and regulated at European level.

The target better map smells on the territory, regulate the levels of tolerable smelly molecules in inhabited areas and raise awareness of an issue that is little considered, but important for public health and the well-being of all; also for this reason the final chapter dedicated to environmental citizenship and collective participation, possible for example thanks to web-apps such as that of the NOSE project that they allow citizens to report the miasma felt in the area to the regional Environmental Agencies. To finally be able to live in cities that are not infected by annoying smells but can be recognized by their characteristic scents.

Breathing problems and malaise

In the air of the cities there are hundreds, thousands of odorous molecules that combine to trigger the reaction of ours smellwhich is very subjective but specifies: the human sense of smell is highly developed because it is a defense tool. With the nose we feel the presence of compounds dangerous to health: for example we can recognize hydrogen sulfide molecules, the typical smell of rotten eggs from stagnant water or sewage, in concentrations of just 10 parts per billion is good, because in high doses a lethal substance. Even when a smelly molecule is not directly harmful, however, it can create quite a few annoyances: being exposed to unpleasant environmental odors can accentuate breathing problems and causing malaise, headaches, insomnia, nausea, lack of concentration and stress.

April 30, 2022 (change April 30, 2022 | 19:18)

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Those “stinks” not only annoying that are really bad for your health


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