Health and wellbeing impacts
Repeated exposure to odour annoyance can lead to a high level of odour nuisance and can also be detrimental to peoples’ health and wellbeing. While some people may become acclimatised to odours, others may become sensitised to them.
Source: EPA Victoria
An individual’s response to odour may be influenced by a variety of factors including:
- the state of their health
- previous experience with the odour
- their relationship to the party generating the odour (for example ifa person’s livelihood is dependent on the facility causing the odour they will be more likely to accept an odour than a person who does not benefit from it in any way).
Examples of the impacts of offensive odours include:
- interference with backyard activities such as barbecues, having visitors or gardening
- infiltration into homes or prevention of windows being opened
- physiological and psychological health impacts triggered such as stress, headaches, nausea, shortness of breath or aggravating asthma symptoms
- interference with a person’s capacity to work.
The EPA requires licensed facilities to take all reasonable and practicable measures to prevent or minimise odour. Other odour issues within the community are regulated by local councils under the Local Nuisance and Litter Control Act 2016.
The overall objectives in the management of potentially odorous activities are to:
- minimise odour emissions and their impacts
- ensure industry or facilities do not expose neighbouring land users to an unacceptable level of odorous emissions
- apply ongoing risk evaluation and management principles that evolve as the scientific understanding of odours and their potential health impacts evolves over time.
Odour is experienced when one or more chemical compounds (also called odorants) in a gaseous form stimulate the sense of smell.
An odour can be made of a mixture of chemical compounds. Chemical compounds levels can be measured by sampling and analysis in the field or in a laboratory. However, from an odour point of view, the impact of a mixture of odorants on human can only be measured by the olfactory sense.
An unacceptable odour may trigger an odour complaint for a person who becomes sufficiently annoyed to take action. With the individual’s sensitivity, annoyance is the result of a combination of five factors commonly referred to as FIDOL:
- Frequency of the occurrence (how often do you experience the odour?)
- Intensity (how strong is the smell and how is it affecting your amenity?)
- Duration of exposure (how long is the odour present?)
- Offensiveness (is the odour objectionable or pleasant?)
- Location of the odour source.
The frequency refers to how often an odour can be experienced over a day, or a week or a month.
The intensity varies with the person’s sensitivity.
The duration relates to the period during which the odour is present and can be recognised by a person.
Offensiveness is based on the pleasantness/unpleasantness of the odour character (what the odour smells like). Character can distinguish between different odours. For example, hydrogen sulfide has a rotten egg-like odour character which is unpleasant for most of the population while some aldehyde compounds have a sweet odour character that is rated as pleasant and are used in perfumery.
Location refers to the sensitivity of the environment where the odour is impacting and can be negatively rated when an odour impacts someone’s home and prevent some activities to occur.
If a person works in an odorous environment, this person can become acclimatised and if exposed to this odour in a different context, it may not trigger any annoyance reaction.
Conversely, a pleasant (rated as non-offensive) odour like bakery, may become an annoyance if a person is exposed to it repeatedly and for long periods even at a low intensity.
Reporting odour nuisance
If you are experiencing unacceptable odour from an industrial or commercial facility, find out if the site is licensed by the EPA. If this is the case, you will need to complete an odour diary. This will help us to identify where the odour may be coming from, why it is occurring, and allow us to determine what further action is required to collate evidence.
Please submit the diary once completed keeping in mind that your diary could become evidence to help us investigate and prosecute.
If the odour source is not from a licensed facility, you can contact your local council. You can use the odour diary to provide the same information so that they can determine the necessary action. For instance the frequency or duration of an odour nuisance may point to a particular process that has changed within the industry or business and then the EPA or council can work with them to remediate the odour more effectively by targeting that process.