Making Sense of Odours
WBEA’s Community Odour Monitoring Project
by Jane Percy, WBEA

“Hey, what’s that smell?” Odours are one of the most frequently voiced air quality concerns of Athabasca Oil Sands Region residents. That’s why, in 2013, the Wood Buffalo Environmental Association (WBEA) empowered citizen scientists to monitor and report odours throughout the course of their daily activities. The results of this two-year project have provided WBEA with crucial information about the impact of odours on Fort McMurrayites’ quality of life.


There are numerous sources of
odours in Fort McMurray.

The odours in Fort McMurray are as numerous as their origins. The nine most commonly occurring are Ammonia-Cat’s Pee, Asphalt-Tar, Burnt-Smoke, Chemical-Plastic, Fecal-Septic, Fuel-Solvent, Natural Gas, Rotten Egg, and Skunk.

To kick off the project, WBEA recruited and trained 32 interested citizen volunteers from Fort McMurray. Training saw the volunteers identifying different odours and their relative intensities in blind smell tests. WBEA then provided the means to report odours 24/7, compiled the results, and reported back to the participants at quarterly intervals. To learn more, watch WBEA’s Community Odour Monitoring Project video here.


Volunteers have multiple odour reporting options, including an observation card, a mobile app, a dedicated phone line, and a website.

WBEA-COMP volunteers Karen Nixon and Adekunle Mofolasayo learn about odour identification and intensity with David Cuervo, Odotech Inc.

From citizens’ observations, WBEA learned:

  • In the first year (2013-2014), a Fuel-Solvent odour was the most prominent (40 reports), followed by an Asphalt-Tar odour (38 reports).
  • In the second year (2014-2015), a Burnt-Smoke odour was the most frequently logged (82 reports), followed by a Fuel-Solvent smell (59 reports).
  • Here’s the breakdown of the odour reports for each year. The “Other” category includes odours that were not captured in the nine descriptive categories.
Cumulative odour reports in each year of the Community Odour Monitoring Project.
Odours reported by type in Year 1 and Year 2 of the WBEA Fort McMurray Community Odour Monitoring Project.

Fort McMurray COMP volunteer Cynthia Rose Hagan participates in odour identification training with Ray Porter of Odotech Inc. at WBEA headquarters.

Participants also logged contextual data associated with their odour reports. They gathered information such as the time, date, and location of their odour observation, as well as data on the weather conditions, odour intensity, and unpleasantness.

Using these data, WBEA and our contractor, Odotech Inc., were able to correlate the odour reports with these contextual factors for a more complete picture of odours in Fort McMurray.

Interested in knowing more? Read the two-year summary of the project here. For the most detailed information on each year of the project, check out the Year 1 (2013-2014) and Year 2 (2014-15) Annual Reports.

WBEA Executive Director, Dr. Kevin Percy, says of the project, “Through their odour observations recorded over the two years of the Fort McMurray project, citizens have helped to enhance the understanding of odours and their impact on the community. WBEA will continue to gather and report odour information through the community odour monitoring method as the project carries on in the community of Anzac in 2015-2016.”

The Community Odour Monitoring Project and data from WBEA’s odour analyzing instruments continue to inform WBEA stakeholders and local residents about the impact of odours on human exposure. Stay tuned to WBEA’s website for future results!

Volunteers Abby Glashoerster (left) and Yaa Agyemang (centre) during an odour training session with Ray Porter, Odotech Inc., at WBEA headquarters.


Odour solutions stand ready for WBEA volunteer odour identification training sessions in Fort McMurray.

WBEA’s Community Odour Monitoring Project (2013-2015) provided essential data on the impact of odours upon Fort McMurray residents.


Wood Buffalo
Environmental Association

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