Critical review: the health significance of environmental odor pollution

Arch Environ Health. 1992 Jan-Feb;47(1):76-87. doi: 10.1080/00039896.1992.9935948.


Environmental odor pollution problems generate a significant fraction of the publicly initiated complaints received by air pollution control districts. Such complaints can trigger a variety of enforcement activities under existing state and local statutes. However, because of the frequently transient timing of exposures, odor sources often elude successful abatement. Furthermore, because of the predominantly subjective nature of associated health complaints, air pollution control authorities may predicate their enforcement activities upon a judgment of the public health impact of the odor source. Noxious environmental odors may trigger symptoms by a variety of physiologic mechanisms, including exacerbation of underlying medical conditions, innate odor aversions, aversive conditioning phenomena, stress-induced illness, and possible pheromonal reactions. Whereas relatively consistent patterns of subjective symptoms have been reported among individuals who live near environmental odor sources, documentation of objective correlates to such symptoms would require as-yet unproven research tools. Therefore, given our current state of knowledge, any differential regulatory response to environmental odor pollution, which is based upon the distinction between community "annoyance reactions" and "health effects," is a matter of legal--not scientific--interpretation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Odorants*
  • Perception
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena
  • Smell / physiology