The Ultimate Guide to Managing Odour Complaints!

You receive an email or a phone call from an irate neighbour complaining about an odour potentially from your facility, What do you do?  ORTECH has a structured approach to cost effectively manage the entire situation.

Gather Information: This means everything you can get your hands on.

Complainant: Ask them the following questions:

  • What was your location when you first encountered the odour
  • What day and time of day was it?
  • Was the odour weak or strong?
  • What did it smell like?
  • What direction was the wind blowing?

Internal:  Ask the following questions:

  • Does your operation generate odours as a standard business process?
  • If yes, are these odours continuous or intermittent?
  • Were you operating at the time of the complaint?
  • Did anything unusual happen that might releae an odour at the time of the complaint (Poll your employees)?
  • What were the weather conditions at the time (wind direction, wind speed, temperature)?
  • Have you changed your processes or added any new activities that may generate odour?

External:  Ask the following questions:

  • Were there any active construction sites operating nearby?
  • Do you have neighbours that were operating at the time of the complaint and could have released an odour?
  • Were there any other activities outside of your plant that could have contributed to the odour issue?

When gathering this information, best practices to keep in mind include:

  1. Be calm and professional in all internal and external communications. The complainant will appreciate the behaviour and act accordingly.
  2. Communicate with the complainant and acknowledge their concerns.
  3. Agree to look into the situation but do not make any commitments  until you know your plant is responsible.  

Following this initial information gathering, it may be beneficial to hire a consultant.  A good odour consultant will have the ability to quickly assess the initial information and evaluate the potential source(s) of the odours and if warranted sample odours and quantify using an odour panel and dispersion modelling to provide evidence of the level of odour that was present in the area at the time.  Next steps to managing and odour complaint may include:    

  1. Provide all the information you have gathered to an odour consultant. Be honest and complete.  If the situation is your fault, there are a number of easy to implement solutions that can mitigate an odour issue.
  2. Your consultant should perform a site visit along with you. You should visit the location of the complaint and the last known location of the expected source(s) of odour.  Some odours may linger which might present an opportunity to spot sample or setup odour sampling equipment that can collects samples over a period of time.
  3. It is vital to determine if you were capable of causing the odour at the location that generated the complaint.  In some cases, the wind was blowing in the wrong direction or it was just physically impossible for your facility to release an odour and have it migrate to the location of the complaint.  A dispersion modeling analysis is a valuable tool for evaluating these type of situations. A good odour consultant will have this ability.  A detailed odour assessment report is an excellent way to back up your case to regulators or municipal bylaw officers or in the worst case, a court of law.
  4. If practical considering the frequency and duration of the operation of the odourous source(s), your consultant can collect and analyze sample for content.  A lot of odours have known substances with odourous properties such as sulphur compounds or ammonia. Analysis for known substances may help to confirm whether or not your operations are responsible. 

In addition, odour can be quantified using an odour panel. An odour panel is a group of six or more people pre-screened to have a “normal” level of odour sensitivity and who are trained to assess odours. The results in combination with dispersion modeling will provide you with further evidence on the level and extent of odour emanating beyond the boundaries of your plant

In summary, if you have an odour complaint, do not panic. Remain calm, ask questions, gather information and contact an odour professional that can assist you with solutions or building a case to defend your company against regulatory or legal action.

For more information or if you have questions, please contact Michael Tingle at or via phone at 905 822 4120 x680