Odor emissions: A public health concern for health risk perception

M. T. Piccardo, M. Geretto, A. Pulliero, A. Izzotti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The olfactory nuisance, due to the emissions of active molecules, is mainly associated with unproperly managed waste disposal and animal farming. Volatile compounds e.g., aromatics, organic and inorganic sulfide compounds, as well as nitrogen and halogenated compounds are the major contributor to odor pollution generated by waste management plants; the most important source of atmospheric ammonia is produced by livestock farming. Although an odorous compound may represent a nuisance rather than a health risk, long-term exposure to a mixture of volatile compounds may represent a risk for different diseases, including asthma, atopic dermatitis, and neurologic damage. Workers and communities living close to odor-producing facilities result directly exposed to irritant air pollutants through inhalation and for this reason the cumulative health risk assessment is recommended. Health effects are related to the concentration and exposure duration to the odorants, as well as to their irritant potency and/or biotransformation in hazardous metabolites. The health effects of a single chemical are well known, while the interactions between molecules with different functional groups have still to be extensively studied. Odor emissions are often due to airborne pollutants at levels below the established toxicity thresholds. The relationship between odor and toxicity does not always occurs but depends on the specific kind of pollutant involved. Indeed, some toxic agents does not induce odor nuisance while untoxic agents do. Accordingly, the relationship between toxicity and odor nuisance should be always analyzed in detail evaluating on the characteristics of the airborne mixture and the type of the source involved.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112121
JournalEnvironmental Research
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • Health risk assessment
  • Livestock farming
  • Olfactory nuisance
  • Volatile compounds
  • Waste management plant

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


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