Adam Wozniak is the inventory and support supervisor for the Air Pollution Control Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Part of his job is to certify odor inspectors who work for cities, counties and the state. A key part of the job is having the right nose, Wozniak says.
"A small percentage of people don't have a very good sense of smell, so it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to have them go out and do an (odor) reading," he explains. "On the other side, there's people who are physiologically like bloodhounds; they smell everything. So it also doesn't make sense for those people to do it." The best inspectors, Wozniak says, are people who have a perfectly average sense of smell.
And just how do you measure such a thing? Through a series of sniff tests, Wozniak says. The would-be inspectors are given several pairs of bottles to smell. One bottle contains odorless distilled water. The other, he notes, "has some level of a chemical in there. Their job is to smell both of the bottles and mark on a sheet of paper which one, if any, smells to them. ... If they've got the ability to take in scents and their nose is in the middle range, they'll be able to smell the bottle and say, 'Yes, there is a smell.'"The recruits (and veterans who must be re-certified every year) are also tested on how well they use the nose gun. Officially called a Nasal Ranger, the thing looks like a bullhorn for your nose. But Wozniak insists that it's the latest in odor-measuring technology. (Some inspectors still use scentometers, which work just like Nasal Rangers but are less fancy.)
The Nasal Ranger quantifies the strength of a smell by mixing stinky air with clean air that's been purified by built-in charcoal filters. If an inspector can still smell something funky after the allegedly smelly air has been diluted with a certain level of filtered air, then the odor exceeds the local smell threshold -- which may result in a fine.
If you're thinking about trying out for the odor-inspector team, Wozniak has this advice: Don't smoke right before taking the test; all you'll smell is stale cigarettes. Don't eat a garlicky lunch; all you'll smell is your breath. And don't douse yourself with Obsession by Calvin Klein; while it may attract sexy tigers, it'll throw off your nose.
For more on how the Nasal Ranger works and to see it in action, check out this clip from the History Channel's Modern Marvels:
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