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Discussion question this week: There are certain processes that are a necessary as part of our society that result in odors. An example is a municipal wastewater treatment plant (WWTP). When we flush the toilet, we get rid of our waste. Out of site (and nose), out of mind. However, it must be treated properly elsewhere or else we would have a serious water pollution problem. Odorous compounds volatilize in the treatment of many millions of gallons of sanitary wastewater every day created by a community, in plants located far from people. Another example is the food or perfume industry. The sellability of their products is due in part to odors which, while pleasant, can be overwhelming at or outside the factory they are made. In the “old” days, all kinds of odorous facilities were intentionally located in “out of the way” places where few people lived. However, with urban sprawl, more developers are building condos or homes near these “out of the way” odor sources like a WWTP, paper mill, or perfume factory. The new residents, having spent perhaps their whole life savings on their “dream” home, will understandably complain bitterly about odors (even if pleasant) from the nearby facility which was there first and chose that out of the way location long ago in order to impact as few people as possible. With protests, the facilities may be forced to spend considerable money to control odors as best they can. But remember two facts: first, even with robust controls, a very low emission rate of an odorous compound may still be detectible and elicit responses.

And second, in most cases, these odorous compounds have no or little public health effects. So, how should such a situation be resolved? If a family buys a house but did not do their research to determine that there was an odorous neighbor operating nearby or were fooled by a real estate agent or just got too good a deal to resist, does the family lose the right to complain about odors (“buyer beware”)? Or does the facility still have the obligation to spend a lot of money to reduce odors, money that they are unlikely to make back, even though they were there first and the odors are not toxic? Remember this money spent will not likely reduce any health risks of the neighbors, “only” improve their quality of life, for neighbors that moved into the area much later? Share with me your thoughts on situations like this because they do happen (I’ve seen it!). Who should be responsible, the factory owner who was there first or the later-arriving residents? What should government do?


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