Proposal on Odor Monitoring

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Hotline, Winter 2002

by Suzanne Seppi, GASP Executive Director

The following proposal was offered by Walter Goldburg, GASP President, to the Allegheny County Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee:


As residents often complain of malodors in Allegheny County and as they usually occur in the vicinity of industrial sources, which may be producing hazardous emissions, the complainants are entitled to know their chemical identity and source.

It is therefore proposed that whenever there are three odor complaints coming from the same area in a period of two hours, that Allegheny County Health Department Inspectors go to the area with equipment to identify and quantify, if possible, the chemicals responsible for the odors.

It is further proposed that if the required monitoring equipment is not presently at hand, it should be purchased using funds from the Allegheny County Clean Air Fund. If additional personnel should be needed to carry out this special monitoring, the associated cost should be obtained internally or by appropriation from the Clean Air Fund.

The results of these measurements and other relevant findings are to be reported to the complainants as soon as possible and to this Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee at least quarterly.


GASP frequently hears comments at public meetings about odor problems and also receives complaint calls from Allegheny County residents experiencing bad odors. Because some odors are frequent, unpleasant and recurring, affected residents can feel powerless to stop them. At least one resident who has informed GASP and the Allegheny County Air Quality Bureau of odor problems is planning to move to a different area. Even after inspection, residents may not know of the chemical nature of the odor and whether any component is toxic.

To address this problem, GASP President Walter Goldburg made the previously mentioned proposal to the Advisory Committee, and it was sent to a joint sub-committee meeting for further discussion. From comments heard at public meetings and at the recent subcommittee meeting of the Advisory Committee held on January 10, 2002 where this proposal was discussed, it would appear that bad odors often go unreported but are nevertheless an ongoing problem.

Odors are complex and difficult to pinpoint even when inspectors go to the site of the problem to assess the situation. The Air Quality Bureau does not own a sophisticated testing monitor that would quickly produce results over a broad range of possible chemicals. The Bureau did suggest possible alternative equipment called the zNose, which operates on acoustic technology and would provide increased testing capacity. This technology has been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The development of the program described in the proposal will enable the rapid inspection and identification of odors. Then action can be taken leading to more livable Allegheny County communities. If odor problems persist, this area will not compete successfully with other cities for new jobs.

If you or others you know are experiencing odor problems, please call GASP at (412) 441-6650 so we can register your complaint. The Air Quality Division of the Health Department also has a Foul Air Hotline number — (412) 687-2243 — which you should call whenever you experience air pollution problems, including every time a bad odor persists or reoccurs. Do not assume because you have reported the issue that the problem is resolved. Do not assume that because you smell this odor frequently, the Air Quality Bureau must be looking into it. The inspectors need to know if it is ongoing or recurring.

The Subcommitee will revisit the odor issue and proposed program on Tuesday, February 12, 2002 at 9:30 am at the Allegheny County Health Department, 301 39th Street, Lawrenceville, 15201, Building 7 in the Conference Room. The public is invited and typically has a chance to comment or ask questions.

If you can not attend the subcommittee meeting, but would like to make a comment regarding GASP’s odor proposal, please forward that comment to GASP at gasp@gasp-pgh.org or P.O. Box 5165, Pittsburgh, PA 15206.