Employed for a nose job, literally

by 29 Jun 2012

In China, announcing that you’ve got a nose job is quite an ambiguous statement and by no means does in only refer to cosmetic surgery. People are being recruited to act as ‘human sniffers’ to detect potentially unhealthy gases around waste and sewage treatment plants.

Employing a number of human smell detectors is Beijing’s response to the country’s rapid urbanisation in recent decades that has resulted in the construction of many treatment plants that may spew pollutants into the air.

According to a report by Channel News Asia, these ‘human sniffers’ are required to exercise highly specialised skills. Some are trained to detect hazardous smells that emerge from sewage treatment plants, others from farms or stockyards or municipal dumps. Technicians collect air samples from these places and present them for scrutiny. They each have to sniff from three bags: one filled with the sample and two with normal clean air. They sniff each bag, the bag with the offending gas is then diluted, and they sniff all three again.

This process is repeated until the olfactory experts cannot discern which bag contains the hazardous sample. From the number of necessary dilutions, the technicians can find out the extent of the problem. These sniffers generally go through eight samples a day.

Apparently, humans make better detectors than machines because the physiology of the human nose means it can pick up offending odours at low densities where machines cannot.

Regardless, this stinks of being a rather hard sell.


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