Nothing to sniff at: Pola Orenstein, head of the air pollution unit of Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection.Get a whiff of this – it takes a very special nose to detect air pollution, and Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection employs a team of experts, who are very good at it.

For more than 30 years, the ministry has been working with its very own “sniff” patrol. The team of 300 people use their extra-sensitive snouts to crack down on unpleasant odors in the environment.

Sometimes they are called on to detect pollutants from a factory, but menacing odors can be pleasant smells too, says Pola Orenstein, the head of the air pollution unit in the ministry.

Israel isn’t the only country to hire the human nostril for detecting air pollutants, notes Orenstein. Each country has its own approach and laws, and works accordingly.

But there is a fertile exchange of information between countries, she offers, citing the annual Water Environment Federation “Odors and Air Emissions” conference in Arizona, this April 6-9.

Government representatives from Israel have been invited to lecture at the event, and will share a paper in a session on odor control and monitoring.

“We’ve developed a system – a simplified screening test – for assessing field and residential odors,” says Orenstein, who worked with Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development on the test’s design and implementation.

“We’ve studied other teams from all over the world, and have built our own methods,” Orenstein tells ISRAEL21c.

She adds that the issue of smell detection is a complicated one.

Currently no machine can determine the strength or quality of odors, because smells are made up from a complicated mix of chemicals, she says.

“It’s never one kind of material. If it were simple, then we could use technology and would know how to remove it. The problem is, that it is always a mix.”

Strong odors are a type of air pollution, she stresses, even if the material from which the smell emanates, does not pose a serious health risk.

“It’s a matter of sensitivity,” says Orenstein. “No one has the right to tell anyone that a smell is weak. Some people can feel smells more strongly than others.”

In Israel, when a complaint is made, she sends out the smell patrol. The patrol works with a number of parameters to detect and assess a problem. If more than 50% of the team report that they can sense an odor, the group will “sniff” into other parameters, before deciding on what action should be taken.

Once the team has honed in on a problem, it works with various governmental units to solve it. If the smell is emanating from a kitchen or restaurant, they will turn to the Ministry of Health to ensure adequate filters and ventilation are put in place.

And of course, the team works in industrial areas, as well. As environmental awareness grows, so does the crackdown on polluters. The sniff team is there to lead the way, because the nose always knows.


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