Environment

Imagine waking up in a coughing fit because of an unwelcome smell wafting in through your open window. That was one of the most common stories Beatrice Dias heard while developing a mobile app that tracks odors.

Dias, who works at Carnegie Mellon University, unveiled the “Smell Pittsburgh” app in 2016. To date, residents have already submitted more 20,000 odor reports.

Now, Dias and the Smell MyCity team have launched the same app in Louisville.

“The idea for the app came in through conversations with community members who often described their experience with pollution by talking about how it smelled,” Dias said at a news conference on Friday.

The Smell MyCity app comes on the heels of an app developed last year by 17-year-old Andrew Smith, who worked with the creators of the Smell MyCity App.

Louisville has a long, smelly history dating back to the days when coal smoke filled the streets and Beargrass Creek ran red with blood from a pork processing plant.

Today, a cornucopia of smells from burnt garlic to rotten eggs can waft out of the chemical and sewage plants in and around Rubbertown in the city’s west end. While in the east  lingers the awful, decomposing offal aroma disconcertingly common in the Butchertown neighborhood (looking at you JBS Swift).

Just last year, the Courier Journal reviewed more than 6,000 odor complaints between 2012 and 2016.

As Air Pollution Control District Director Keith Talley explains, a bad smell doesn’t always mean it’s bad for your health. While sometimes, the chemical that’s the worst for your health is one you can’t smell at all. But bad odors are a quality of life issue, and a sign that something unhealthy might be in the air.

“Some odors obviously have zero risk. They are just an odor that is a nuisance, you don’t want to smell it,” Talley said. “Then there are odors that might present health problems.”

Through the app, residents can rank the smell from one to five, describe the smell, list symptoms and add comments. Then, they can look at a map of other reports – all anonymous – with dates, time and locations included.

Smell MyCity

Every time someone files an odor report, the app sends an email to the Air Pollution Control District — the local regulator.

Eboni Cochran, co-director of Rubbertown Emergency Action, said the app will be an important tool for residents to collect information on what’s actually happening in their communities.

“Documentation is the key to expose those who are poisoning us and exposing those who are not doing a good job of protecting us,” Cochran said.

The success of the app depends on how the Air Pollution Control District chooses to use it, Cochran said. It’s up to them to set up a process to investigate, document and disclose findings on the odors.

One thing that could help to supplement the app, she said, would be for the Air Pollution Control District to station a compliance officer at the Bohne Avenue Fire Department overnight on the weekends when many chemical smells are noticed in the area around Rubbertown.

Talley said he’s happy for residents to have another tool to file odor complaints with the city. Using the reports, Talley said APCD will continue to try to track down odors and connect it to companies that might be emitting it.

The app is available for both Android and iphone, just look for “Smell MyCity.” Or, you can give APCD a call to report an odor at 502-574-7321.

 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.