Smell squad coming for stinky complaints

People are quick to complain about bad smells, such as those caused by overflowing bins of rubbish during summer. Photo: Simone De Peak SDPRotten egg, sewage, putrid, cheesy and manure are among the descriptions offered by residents who regularly call the environment watchdog to complain about bad smells.

But what, exactly, defines a noxious pong?

The Environment Protection Agency will develop a Confirmed Odour Complaint Protocol to formalise its definition of a bad smell. It hopes the move will increase prosecutions.

Odour is the biggest category of complaint to the EPA hotline, accounting for 1850 complaints last year.

“People call up when they are in distress or they think a smell is related to a gas leak. But smells are a weird thing. They don’t get picked up on air monitoring. They are more precise than tastebuds and are subjective,” an EPA spokeswoman said.

A tender has been issued to research smells and develop training material for EPA officers, so the agency can consistently verify a stench, and then negotiate with industry to control odour emissions.

In previous smell outbreaks, the EPA has hired experts to “calibrate people’s noses to European standards” to identify if a stench is extreme.

“Odours are notoriously difficult to pinpoint and measure. Community complaints submitted to the EPA indicate a large range of reaction … Odours may cause psychological or physiological effects,” said the spokeswoman.

“The odour-sensitive sector of the population will react, often strongly, to odours that are barely noticeable to others and there are others, within the community, who are more tolerant of higher odour levels.”

Mushroom farms, landfill sites, and ports are typically complained about.

In October, Mulgrave mushroom supplier Elf Farm was fined $8000 after odour complaints, its second infringement in three years.

The stench continued despite a program of odour monitoring. Residents have complained about the farm for more than two decades.

“A more standardised method for recording odour complaints will mean that an EPA officer can conclusively confirm that a particular operation or combination of operations is the source of an odour … [Confirming] complaints will help strengthen regulatory action and prosecutions,” said the spokeswoman.

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