THAILAND - With their specialised abilities becoming officially recognised in Thailand last year, "human sniffers" yesterday confirmed that the foul odours from an animal-feed factory in Nakhon Pathom have exceeded acceptable limits.
The tests were conducted after the abbot of the neighbouring Or Noi Temple erected a sign saying that his monastery is "for sale" because the bad smell from the factory had become unbearable. The high-profile case has also put the spotlight on "human sniffers".
The Pollution Control Department (PCD) searched for the keen-nosed experts for the first time last year. Of 500 tested, just 124 have sailed through and become registered. Their licences as qualified olfactory experts are valid for one year, after which they have to undergo another round of tough testing.
When they are called for duty, the sniffers work in a special laboratory set up by the PCD in middle of last year.
PCD officials collect air samples from specific sites and bring them to the lab for testing. Six human sniffers are used for each case and yesterday's case was the one surrounding the Or Noi Temple.
Officials at the lab have tested the readiness of registered human sniffers before it allows them to inhale the air samples from three-litre bags.
Human sniffers check the air samples as they are at the site where they are collected. They also check the air samples that have been diluted by 10 times, 30 times, 100 times, 1,000 times, 10,000 times, etc.
"We have proceeded in line with procedures used by the United States and Japan," a lab official said.
From the yesterday's sensory test, the sniffers confirmed that the odour from RT Agri Tech Co Ltd animal-feed plant and nearby areas is indeed unpleasant and not acceptable.
Or Noi Temple is located near the factory.
Locals praised the move by the temple's abbot, Luang Puu Buddha Isara, to publicly bring attention to their plight.
"It's good that Luang Puu put up the 'temple for sale' board. The problem from the factory should be publicly exposed, otherwise the public won't know and we will continue to suffer," Sayan Huaihongthong, 48, said.
He said he, his wife, and their three children also have skin rashes, likely caused by the factory.
The factory has installed anti-pollution systems, officials found, but while the systems significantly eased the severity of the problems, the bad smell and dust particles are still problematic.
Tambon Huai Khwang Administrative Organisation's chairman Adulkitti Wuttapanich said the factory's management promised a quick solution to the problem.
"They have asked for just one more week of operations, which they need to produce products for orders they have already accepted. After that, they will suspend operations pending the improvement of the treatment systems," he said.
Sampao Nintako, a 60-year-old neighbour, said if the factory could solve the problem, it should relocate.
"The smell is really bad in winter. During rainy season, foul-smelling wastewater from the factory floods my house. Even after I wash my feet, the bad smell stays. We are really in trouble," she said.
Luang Puu Buddha Issara said he did not want to fight but felt compelled to do something to help locals as well as monks and novice monks at his temple.