How a European Standard about odours was born in 1991

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referendum ukraine
Photo: referendum in Ukraine
in December 1991.

  It was around 24 years ago in Amsterdam. To be precise the 2nd of December, 1991. At the same time that Mikhail Gorbachev was thinking about resigning as President of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a group of enthusiasts met to discuss about the first standard about odour concentration measurement. Today, 33 countries of Europe are using this standard to measure odour concentration. But that was not easy a few years back.

   To start with this history we should go back to 1984.

   In 1984 a quantitative air quality guideline for odours from industrial sources was introduced in the Netherlands. This guideline was based on the measurement of odour emissions using olfactometry, followed by dispersion modelling to predict frequency of exposure to hourly average. Also in 1986 the standard VDI 3881 on Olfactometry - Odour threshold determination – Fundamentals was published in the still Federal Republic of Germany.

preliminary agenda

  Preliminary agenda of the first meeting in Amsterdam.  

   The 13th of March of 1991, around a year after the German reunification, there was a meeting in the beautiful city of Bonn, still seat of the government of the new Germany. The Technical Comittee (TC) 264 "Air Quality" of the CEN met and agreed to create a Working Group about odours. This was a huge step as there was not much legislation about odours at that time. The Convenor of this group was set to be a person that began to work on odours in 1979 and who was proposed by the NEN for this task, a Dutch guy named Anthon Philip van Harreveld.

   The event took place in Amsterdam and the preliminary agenda set 12 points to discuss. The first meeting of the Working Group two of the Technical Committee two hundred and sixty-four (TC264) of the European Committee for Standardization coded as CEN/TC 264/WG 02 took place a cold day of the 2ndof December of 1991. The newspapers showed that morning the results of the referendum on the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine.

   The world was changing and still 21 guys met to discuss about odours at a European scale for the very first time.

   But who assisted to this first meeting? Well, I would like to pay a tribute to these particular “pioneers”, so here is the list of attendees:

  They took the work of other pioneers such as Fechner, Weber, Dravnieks, Zwaardemaker, Stevens, Mannebeck, McGinley and many others and started to work with a standard about odours.

   The European Standard specified a dynamic olfactometric method to measure the odour threshold and it was planned to include the following subjects:

  1. Terms and definitions
  2. Field of application
  3. Sampling strategy
  4. Sampling at point sources
  5. Treatment of samples
  6. Description of dilution instrumentation
  7. panel selection
  8. data processing
  9. Calculation of emission rate by concentration
  10. Traceability

   The working group (WG) formed an editing committee with Ms. Perrin, Ms. Paduch and Mr Clarkson in order to either translate the documentation available or to check other translated documents. In this very first meeting, the group agreed to analyse existing national standards in order to identify areas of agreements and divergence. In addition a bibliography was compiled and sent to the delegates to complete this listing.

   Other aspects were also discussed in the very first meeting that lead the way, 12 years later, to the standard EN 13725:2003 Air quality - Determination of odour concentration by dynamic olfactometry.

   Enjoy the minutes and resolutions of this first meeting.


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