Opening Ceremony of the 1st Conference on Odour Management in the Environment in Spanish. Ton van Harreveld.

Written by Anton Philip van Harreveld on . . Hits: 16238

ton small canvasToday I would like to share some information on developments in the world of olfactometry, and also to reflect on the developments in dealing with environmental odours in Spain.ton van harreveld

Ton sent us his introductory speech just after the I Conference on Environmental Odour Management hold in Madrid in November 2012 organized by

He was very kind to attach the speech in both English and in Spanish, which make things easier to a media like that is striving every day to be bilingual in most of the relevant articles and trilingual in some other ones.

Fortunately, there is a video recorded of his speech on our youtube canal and also in the Spanish counterpart of this site.

I think it is always worth sharing Ton’s experiences and that is why we reproduce his very interesting speech in this media.

Enjoy it!




Today I would like to share some information on developments in the world of olfactometry, and also to reflect on the developments in dealing with environmental odours in Spain, where we are, and what we could expect to happen in the near future.

   The programme states that I represent the IOOA, the International Association of Applied Olfactometry. Many of you will not have heard of this association, because it is quite new and has not developed many activities yet.  It was founded in Amsterdam in 2010 and has the simple aim to promote high quality applied olfactometry, mainly where this is used for management of environmental odours. There are an estimated 150-250 olfactometry laboratories globally, and many of these are run by private entities in competitive consultancy companies. However, they also share an interest in developing the quality of their activity and also establishing correct expectations of professionalism and quality in the market. They can learn from each other. That is the aim of forming a professional association, which will open its membership to all laboratories that subscribe to and support the aims of the association.  The original founders, all closely linked to Odournet, would welcome a wide membership, both in Europe, but also worldwide. Also we would welcome involving members in the management board of the association as soon as possible. You can find information on the website and if you represent a laboratory, you can expect an invitation to join the IAAO in early 2013.

   The need for exchanging and sharing experience and expertise was felt very strongly by the participants in the working group of CEN/TC264 Air quality, WG2 Olfactometry, which is charged with revising the now widely accepted and adopted standard for odour measurement, EN3725 first published in 2003.

   The working group charged with revising the standard met last week in Barcelona, and had a very animated and efficient first meeting. The group expects to draft a revised standard in 2-3 years. Nine key issues were identified as needing attention in the revision process:

  • Sample storage and materials for olfactometry
  • Reference material for panel selection and panel management
  • Sampling of passive area sources (without flow)
  • Sampling of active area sources (biofilters)
  • Dynamic dilution during stack sampling
  • Implications of EN 15259 air quality ‐ measurement of stationary source emissions
  • Calculation of uncertainty
  • Compatibility of Yes/No and Forced Choice methods
  • Helath & Safety of panel members and sampling technicians

   Now, I would like to share some experiences enjoyed while setting up an odour consultancy in Spain, where I have lived as a Barcelona resident since 2000. Many people have asked me: Why Spain? Well, apart from knowing the country well from childhood and liking its diverse and vibrant culture, we aimed our business strategy as a specialist odour management consultancy on countries where we expected growth. In 1993 I was given access to a marketing study, prepared for a large German engineering firm, identifying the main opportunities for air quality management in Europe. This report identified Great Britain, Spain and Italy as large developed economies, with strong growth prospects, and a significant deficit in environmental management where air quality was concerned. So we decided to go there.

In  1993 we had a crisis too, in the Netherlands. Small  company Odournet , with a team of 10, then decided to become international, and as a result I left for England first, where the water companies had recently been privatized, which lowered the general tolerance to the annoyance caused by their odours. Also the middle class in the UK became wealthier, living in ever more valuable properties. The demand for odour assessment and management of odour impacts grew accordingly and Odournet UK Ltd was established in 1994. In 2000 it was stable and could be handed over to our UK team, who have since grown and matured to a team of 16 staff with two odour laboratories and a healthy business.

   My family and I went to Spain in 2000, to set up an Odournet branch in Barcelona. Now, 13 years later, a lot has been achieved, but not enough to say that the business is vibrant, healthy and sustainable economically. What happened? Was the demand not there? Was there too much competition? Will it work out once the current crisis is over?

   First it is important to say that the citizens of Spain behave very similar to other EU citizens. They expect and demand an environment free of annoying noise and odour. We have seen many examples of social conflicts where the usual combination of annoyed citizens, eager press media, reluctant facility managers and overstretched local and regional authorities were faced with finding a solution and move beyond the initial conflict over the odours.

   Complaints are filed by the hundreds if there is an odour incident and all legal and politicl ways citizens have at their disposal are explored. This led in one case to the famous 1994 case by the European Court of Human Rights, recognising the failure of a local authority to protect the residential intimacy of a resident, Mrs Lopez Óstra, from intruding odours as an infraction of her human right of protection of intimacy in the private residence[EHRC, 1994]. The court considered that the government had failed to protect the citizen and hence her rights under art. 8 of the Convention of Rome, 1950:

  • Art 8.
    • Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
    • There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

   As a result the Spanish state was fined for infringing on the human rights of its citizen Lopez Ostra by not adequately protecting her from offending odours penetrating her residence.

   This embarrassing event points to the lack of legally binding regulation on odours in Spain and its autonomous regions. However, we have seen a genuine interest in developing an understanding of how to regulate and manage odours in some environment agencies. Some regulatory initiatives were developed, such as the Catalan Draft bill of Law against Odour Pollution of the Departament de Medi Ambient i Habitatge de la Generalitat de Catalunya, but so far such regulatory frameworks have not made it past the competent autonomous political legislative bodies. 

   The lack of legislation does not mean that odours are not regulated in Spain. The first competent administration is the local authority. In some cases comprehensive municipal ‘ordenances’ have been adopted.

   Also, odour emissions are a regular feature of environmental licenses, both under IPCC and under the regular licenses. Sometimes these licenses contain conditions that are very demanding, or simply copied from other licenses and countries. This sometimes results in an unintended level of ambition in odour treatment. For example the typically unattainable emissions concentration limit of 500 ouE/m3, copied from Germany, is often applied even if it is in most cases almost impossible to satisfy this condition.

   Over the years, we see an increasing knowledge on odours and its impacts. of course significantly contributes to informing regulators, facility managers and members of the public. This conference demonstrates that there is a truly professional community of odour management professsionals forming in Spain.

   And the crisis? How does the crisis affect odour management?  Isn’'t  that a luxury we cannot afford in the current conditions?

   In my view Spain will only exit from this severe crisis if it focusses on its strong points. Spain itself is a strong brand, attracting tens of millions of tourists. A cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Sevilla etc.  cannot afford to neglect the aesthetics of the air quality, including noise and odour, to negatively affect their brand.

   Spain should smell of bread, fried garlic going into a paella, of Bacalao a la Vizcaina. It should smell of the beach, and pine woods and thyme and oregano, of jasmine and orange blossom.  Those are the smells of the brand Spain. Not municipal waste, animal byproducts, petrochemical plants or sewage.

   And if these key cities manage odour impacts, all citizens of Spain will be justified to demanding a similar level of protection. I am therefore confident that odour management will remain a key element of air quality management in Spain. At Odournet we see that in our day to day business, which has not really reduced in volume of work, even in this deep crisis. What has been reduced is the price and the margin in a highly competitive market. Is that a problem? Isn’'t competition positive, giving the market the best deal? Ideally it works like this, but when the prices become so low that it indeed costs the company money to work, instead of making a decent profit, the quality and availability of well qualified consultants suffers. That is a real danger now.

   Odournet is lucky in that it has the support of its international parent company. We have been able to invest in a new odour laboratory and a cutting edge GC-MS and GC-Olfactometry laboratory for chemical aroma analysis which serves the entire European market. We have found very good technical experts from Spanish universities, who are very competitive. This is how we can turn our Spanish odour branch into an exporter of expertise on odours.

   This may sound like promoting our Odournet Spain office, and it is. However it is also a message that Spain is capable of delivering high quality environmental odour services with its highly qualified workforce, lively culture and good infrastructure. This is the case not just in fashion, gastronomy, food, architecture, hotel services but also in technology services, including odour and aroma analysis services. I would hope the administration will recognize the potential and support odour management by creating efficient regulatory frameworks.

   And that brings me to the end of my introduction. Odour management skills and a high quality environment are not expensive luxuries in times of crisis. They are real opportunities for Spain as a brand, for well known Spanish brands, for Spanish employment of highly qualified staff and for Spanish industries to demonstrate the health and sustainability of their brands.

 Anton Philip van Harreveld


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