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Air Pollution Odor Diaries

Woman writing in a diary

Unpleasant odors can be a warning sign of potential risks to human health. Sometimes people can smell certain chemicals in the air before they are at harmful levels. Community members have reported that smelling odors in the air decreased their quality of life and sense of wellbeing. Odors from environmental sources might also cause health symptoms, depending on individual and on environmental factors. Those factors can include age, sex, medical conditions, and the level and type of the substance in the environment.

Odor Diary Overview

Odor diaries [PDF - 8 KB] help document important information such as

  • the type of odors,
  • how strong the odors are from day to day,
  • the times when the odors are worse,
  • weather conditions at the time of the odors, and
  • what effect the odors are having on people’s activities and health.

Odor diaries are easy to fill out and tabulate, and they can produce useful information in as little as 2 weeks. Odor diary collection efforts work best if they are organized by state and local health departments.

ATSDR’s Get Involved in Environmental Odors Control and Reduction - Presentation [PDF - 971 KB] contains some helpful information about odor diaries, such as how they can help you develop health messages about environmental odors. The presentation also provides information about common sources of environmental odors and symptoms caused by odors.

State and local health departments and communities can use odor diaries to assess effects, create ideas and suggest actions to address the odors. Specific odor diary uses are listed below.

Please DO NOT send completed odor diaries to ATSDR for review.

Odor Diary Uses

Communities and local environmental and health agencies can assess a community’s response to odors with an odor diary. Odor diaries can help determine

  • the nature of the odor that triggered a response (i.e., what type of smell people record most frequently),
  • when odors are worse, and
  • if there is a correlation between weather conditions, times of day or season, or personal activities. Examples of personal activities include jogging and gardening.

The results of the odor diaries can have many practical uses.

Odor diaries may contain information that can support suggestions on how to address the odor problem:

  • Restrictions, for example, on zoning or operating times of day or night
  • Activities to reduce emissions, for example, preventing odors from being generated, planting trees, or using technologies to reduce odors
  • Capture and destroy odors before they are released to the environment
  • Disperse or disguise odors so they do not create a nuisance when released from the odor source

Odor diaries may also contain information that can help community members determine what personal actions they can take to cope with the odors:

  • Exercising indoors
  • Staying indoors if environmental odors are strong that day
  • Leaving the area for a few hours, if able

Odor diary results can also be used for further analysis or sampling:

  • To narrow the list of chemicals to sample
  • To determine the best times and locations to sample
  • To compare with sampling results to see if responses match. For example, did odor diary results and sampling results both find high concentrations of the odor in the air, did both find odors problems in the same location or at the same times of day.

Odor Diary Examples

References and Resources

Chemela C, Riesenmey C, Batton-Hubert M, Vaillant H. Odour-impact assessment around a landfill site from weather-type classification complaint inventory and numerical simulation. Journal of Environmental Management 2012;93:85–94.

Hadrich J, Wolf C. Citizen complaints and environmental regulation of Michigan livestock operations. Journal of Animal Science 2011;89:277-86.

Munoz R, Sivret E, Parcsi G, Lebrero R, Wang X, Suffet IH, Stuetz R. Monitoring techniques for odour abatement assessment. Water Research 2010;44:5129–49.

Schiffman SS, Williams CM. Science of odors as a potential health issue. Journal of Environmental Quality. 2005; 34:129–38.

Steinheider B. Environmental odours and somatic complaints. International Journal of Hygiene & Environmental Medicine. 1999 Aug; 202:101–19.

Schiffman SS, Gutierrez-Osuna R, Nagle TH. Measuring odor intensity with e-noses and other sensor types. Proceedings of the 9th International Symposium on Olfaction and Electronic Nose; 2002 Sep 29–Oct 2; Rome, Italy. Available at [PDF - 174 KB