Color & Control:

The Leading Edge: Is there something in the air?

As anyone who has experienced a bad smell can likely tell you, experiencing odour can be unpleasant. Historically, we have treated smells as a “nuisance” rather than something that might affect our health. There is a lot we do not know about the relationship between odour and health. Some odorous compounds can have negative health impacts themselves, and they can also indicate the presence of other, health-harming air pollutants—either because they’re emitted by the same sources, or because the smelly substances can be transformed into the harmful pollutants in the atmosphere. These linkages between odour and poor air quality are another important dimension of odour impacts.

Smell Vancouver, or SmellVan, is a web-based app that can now be accessed at We want to know when and where people in Metro Vancouver experience bad odours in their outdoor environment. Through SmellVan, members of the public have the opportunity to log odours, report on any health effects they are experiencing, and see what others are smelling. We hope to identify odour “hotspots” in the region so we can take a closer look at these areas from an air quality perspective. The SmellVan app does not replace the typical odour complaint process, so if you want to formally complain about odours, you can submit your concern to Metro Vancouver. Submitting a formal complaint will allow the air quality regulator to determine the source and get them to reduce their emissions of odorous air contaminants.

Naomi Zimmerman and  Amanda Giang are a pair of UBC researchers who are studying the different scents that permeate Metro Vancouver.

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