Odor smeller fights pollution with nose

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Fang Pengfei has not worn any makeup for more than three years.

“Perfume is banned. Even hand cream is banned,” said the 27-year-old. “They would affect my nose’s sensitivity.”

Fang works as an “odor smeller” at the Environmental Monitoring Central Station in east China’s Anhui Province. She sniffs atmospheric samples, mainly collected from pharmaceutical, chemical and poultry firms, and notes down what she feels.

Anhui, formerly a rural province, is industrializing fast and facing environmental pressure. The provincial capital Hefei is now the country’s major producer of automobiles, home appliances and computers.

In a small room, Fang has to single out the malodorous gas out from three samples, two of pure air and one from the site under inspection. The sample gas is repeatedly diluted until Fang can not distinguish it from the others.

“I’m not worried about my health as the dose is very low,” said Fang, adding that she opens the window and takes a deep breath after a test. The process takes less than two hours and is carried out four or five times a month.

Fang, an environmental engineering graduate, calculates an olfactory threshold based on a formula and according to her notes and the dilution ratio. After comparison with pre-existing data, she can make a judgment as to whether the sample gas exceeds pollution limits.

Human odor smellers have unique skills and are sometimes even better than machines.

“Some foul gas contains lots of chemicals and not every chemical can be detected,” said Hu Yaqin, deputy director of the station’s analysis office. “You cannot underestimate the sensitivity of your nose!”

The best age for an odor smeller is between 25 and 40 years old as our sense of smell weakens as we grow older. Not everyone can become an odor smeller. It is a strictly licensed job. Fang still remembers the entrance examination.

“I smelled sweat, shit and sweet rice,” Fang recalled. “It was hard to figure them out after dilution.”

“Nobody likes a bad smell, yet as an odor smeller, I use my nose to monitor pollution and provide evidence for law enforcement,” said Fang.

“I feel I contribute my part to a better-breathing city,” she said. Enditem

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