18 September 2019

Research pick: What’s that smell? - "Identification of the malodour source in a complex office environment using solid-phase microextraction and gas chromatography"

Odours, scents, smells…whatever you call them, they are inextricably linked to our mood and memory. The delightful scent of a rose in bloom can evoke delicious emotions whereas a stench in the office can offend everyone and even disrupt work.

Olga Trhlíková of the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry in Prague, Czech Republic, is using a powerful analytical technique that can home in on the source of a bad smell in the complex environment of a working office. She reports details of the technique, solid-phase microextraction and gas chromatography, in the International Journal of Environmental Technology and Management.

“Permanent or recurring malodours invading office rooms have not only detrimental effects on the staff productivity but also on their health directly or through the stress mechanisms,” Trhlíková writes. Identifying the source of an offensive odour and removing or at least neutralizing it can be critical to office wellbeing. Solid-phase microextraction coupled with gas chromatography and mass spectrometric (SPME/GC-MS) can identify previously unknown, but smelly volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in an office whether the source is microbial spoilage and contamination, a chemical spill, or even fire.

The data from tests in four rooms of an office building were able to identify the malodours by matching the spectra and chromatograms to a database of known chemical fingerprints. In the proof of principle work, malodours from the most likely source, the lavatory, were ruled out quickly and the actual source of the bad smells turned out to be the rotting carcasses of dead animals within the building, such as small rodents.

Trhlíková, O. (2019) ‘Identification of the malodour source in a complex office environment using solid-phase microextraction and gas chromatography’, Int. J. Environmental Technology and Management, Vol. 22, Nos. 2/3, pp.115–127.

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