New approach and the community helps identify Bromley odour issues

A new approach to investigating ongoing problem odours in some parts of Bromley has generated preliminary findings that will help identify sources of problem odours. This story was first published on 21 May, and has since been updated to include a detailed video of the study, its findings and next steps, below.

Environment Canterbury, with the support of the Christchurch City Council and the Bromley community, carried out a pilot study in March 2020. It saw residents reporting odour via a 'Smelt It' reporting app, with reports then cross-referenced with weather conditions and onsite observations.

Environment Canterbury Operations Director Nadeine Dommisse said the study identified Christchurch City Council-run facilities Living Earth and EcoDrop as significant odour emitters. The two councils had worked closely throughout the study, and Christchurch City Council had welcomed the findings. Both councils would work together to address any problems related to these two public facilities as quickly as possible.

"We know this has been an issue for Bromley residents for a long time and it hasn’t been an easy one to resolve. Tracing odour is a complex issue and the usual methods councils use to track odour simply didn't work in Bromley. The variables involved include the number of potential sources, wind, weather, temperature, timing, distance, topography, and sometimes even a combination of odours, all making it difficult to pin down what residents were describing, and where an odour might be coming from," she said.

"Over the last few years we've systematically worked through a process, talking to residents, mapping odour-emitting businesses and other work, which has culminated in the pilot study."

New data gathering approach

Dommisse said the pilot study took a new approach, using reports from the community via a mobile app, and an independent odour assessor. Those reports were compared to wind and weather information and site operational data provided by the Christchurch City Council.

"These three datastreams enabled us to bring together odour reports, the physical impact on residents and the likely location at the same time. It’s given us a compelling picture we've not had before, and a new way to investigate these sorts of issues. We're very grateful to the Bromley community and the Christchurch City Council for their support. Together we've been able to develop the information we need to finally make a difference."

Collaborative plan to address odours

Dommisse said Environment Canterbury will work closely with the Christchurch City Council to progressively address the issue with Living Earth and EcoDrop. Environment Canterbury will continue to work with other odour emitting businesses in Bromley and further investigate the possibility that some odours were combining to create a worse one.

"The Bromley community remain a vital part of the solution. We need them to continue to report odours so we can tell if progress in reducing odours is being made or not.

"A collaborative approach will produce faster results for affected residents. We can now better identify where problems can occur in certain conditions, potential emitters, and address them. While we have identified the Christchurch City Council-run facilities as being significant emitters, we will also be working with other odour-emitting businesses in Bromley to ensure they are managing odour appropriately."

Beyond the pilot

Christchurch City Council Head of Three Waters and Waste, Helen Beaumont, said the Council welcomed the pilot study findings.

"Environment Canterbury's pilot study findings are an important step in determining what's causing the offensive odours in some parts of Bromley. The study indicates the EcoDrop transfer station and the Living Earth composting plant facilities are significant contributors to the odour issue.

"We appreciate our community will want action and we'll be working with Environment Canterbury to determine what immediate actions, other investigations or further information might be needed to address the issue. We'll also be taking a proactive approach working with Living Earth and EcoDrop to share technology, best practices and initiatives to help further improve our processes."

Find out more

Watch our summary video about the pilot study and new approach to odour management in Bromley (4:28).

See the full findings, and next steps, in our video on the background of the Bromley odour management study; the pilot outcomes and action plan for the next three months (12:20).

Got questions?

Learn more about the pilot and using Smelt It with our frequently asked questions below.

Pilot overview
What was the pilot study about? 
We know odour is a serious concern for people living in Bromley. Traditional ways of responding to odour reports from the community haven't been effective.
The pilot study used odour reports from the community via a mobile app and compared them with wind and weather data and business operational information. This built a comprehensive picture of what was occurring on particular days and provided the information needed to inform changes that should improve the situation. The information generated is far more detailed and of far greater quality than has previously been available. It brings together three streams of data to better understand odour, source and impact, which we had not been able to do before.
This information will inform decisions to better manage odour and reduce instances of odour reaching beyond business boundaries, and improve the situation for residents.
Is this work going to make these smells go away? 
Having more data from the community and businesses will increase the chances of finding the source(s) of odour and inform decisions of the management of it.
We cannot guarantee the odours will be eliminated entirely, but we should reduce instances of odour reaching beyond odour-emitting business boundaries. Environment Canterbury will continue to monitor the situation and will review progress. Continued reports from the community via the Smelt It app, will be a vital part of monitoring progress.
When was the pilot?
The pilot study occurred during March 2020. We asked the public to use the Smelt It reporting app as much as possible (including evenings and weekends), and at the same time, we will worked with businesses to get better information about their operational activity; prioritised staff resource to respond to Bromley odour reports we received via Smelt It and our other incident reporting channels, and monitored weather data and wind patterns.
Data interpretation took place during April. This work confirmed that Living Earth and EcoDrop were significant odour emitters in Bromley. There are other business which also emit odour.
We will be working with all these businesses to help them better manage odour emissions and continue to respond to reported incidents. Smelt It will remain available as a reporting tool.
What did Environment Canterbury do differently during the pilot?
The pilot study gathered more comprehensive community feedback and other data than had previously been gathered. Using an app to support community reporting and new technology to track real time data brought together three independent data sources – community reports, operational information and environmental data at the same time.
We prioritised staff resource to Bromley odour reports to support the pilot study and corroborate what the community was reporting – in normal circumstances, officers might be prioritised elsewhere when a report was made.
An independent odour specialist also undertook assessments during the pilot period to provide an impartial, outside perspective.
Who was involved?
We encouraged anyone working in, living in, or visiting Bromley to get involved and report any odour they noticed via the Smelt It app.
I own / manage a business in the area, how does this impact me?
Part of this pilot is looking at a new way of working with businesses in the area that have previously been, or will be, identified as potential odour emitting sites.
We want to encourage better information sharing to identify possible causes of odours and reduce them.
I don’t live in or near Bromley, but I have noticed odour problems, what should I do? 
Please call 0800 765 588 (24 hours) to report any environmental incident.
What happened at the end of the pilot?
We analysed the feedback from Smelt It and other data and information gathered and reported back to the community. We updated the community via mailing list developed from those who chose to sign up via the Smelt It app.
Now that the pilot has finished, do I still use Smelt It to report odours? 
Yes, Smelt It will remain available as a tool for reporting odour, and the community is encouraged to continue to use it to report odour.
It has been designed as a quicker and easier way to notify us of odours. 
I want to talk with someone in more detail
You can call us on 0800 324 636 and ask to talk to someone about the Bromley odour pilot.
Using Smelt It
How do I access Smelt It?
Head to smelt-it.web.app and complete the form.
I’m having trouble entering the address into Smelt It, what do I do?
We recommend you enter the closest address to where you are standing when you experience the odour (Smelt It needs an address entered so that the data we are getting is as informative as possible).
I only notice the smell at the weekend, should I still log it in Smelt It?
Yes.
I work in Bromley but don’t live there, can I use Smelt It?
Yes, if you work in the Bromley area and notice an odour during the day, please report it using Smelt It.
Why can’t I input what I think the source of the odour is into Smelt It?

We need to know where you were when you notice the odour and at what time.

We will then use wind direction and dispersion models to narrow down potential sources using a scientific approach.

It’s important that we test the community’s experience against scientific data to narrow down the potential sources.
Historical reports from the community to us show that people have different views and opinions on where the odour might be coming from. It is important during the trial we keep an open mind.
Will I receive a call or some sort of confirmation after I log a Smelt It?
If you log a smelt it notification, you will only receive a phone call from us if we require further information (and then only if you’ve provided your details).
I am experiencing issues using Smelt It, what do I do?

Please see the FAQs on the Smelt It tool for information.

Alternatively, you can call 0800 324 636 and talk to one of the team for help.

I don’t have a mobile, how can I be involved?

You can also use Smelt It on a tablet or desktop computer.

If you need assistance, call us on 0800 324 636 and we can help.

You can also continue to report odours via our incident response line on 0800 765 588.

Background
Why is odour such an issue in Bromley?
The Bromley area is home to a mix of industries, including fish and seafood processing, fibre glass manufacturing, scrap metal recycling and many of the city’s essential services such as the wastewater treatment plant, composting facility and Metro transfer station.
There is also the Ihutai/Avon-Heathcote Estuary which can emit odour under certain environmental conditions.
Odour can come and go and often changes direction and intensity quickly with wind and other weather patterns, generally making it extremely difficult to pinpoint the source.
What is Environment Canterbury’s role regarding odour?
We are responsible for regulating discharges to air under the Resource Management Act and the Canterbury Air Regional Plan.
We are also responsible for responding to reports of odour from the community.
What are acute and chronic odours?
An acute odour is one that is very smelly for a short period of time – high in intensity, but low in frequency. It is offensive and objectionable, but short-lived and isolated.
These types of odours are typically easier to evidentially prove.
A chronic odour may not be as smelly but may happen regularly i.e. daily or weekly – low in intensity, but high in frequency.
If this type of odour is experienced on an isolated basis, it would not be considered offensive and objectionable.
However, over a long period of time, the odour can become offensive and objectionable.
A chronic odour is evidentially harder to prove as a history of non-compliance would be required.
Traditionally, our response has been focused on acute odours, but we’ve realised we need to address the ongoing chronic odours which really impact on the residents.
Why do you refer to "offensive and objectionable" odours?
Ministry for the Environment guidelines state that offensive is defined as "giving or meant to give offence; disgusting, foul-smelling, nauseous, repulsive".
Objectionable is defined as "open to objection, unpleasant, offensive".
The Canterbury Air Regional Plan states the odour shall not cause offensive and objectionable effect beyond the property boundary.
Are there any health impacts associated with these odours?
Canterbury District Health Board's Medical Officer of Health, Dr Ramon Pink says that the risk of long-term health effects associated with the odour is considered to be low.
However, repeated or prolonged exposure to odour can be stressful, and the person experiencing this may become particularly sensitive to the presence of the odour.
Acute health effects may vary between individuals due to the fact that perceptions of, and sensitivity to, odour can vary widely.
If the symptoms persist or you are experiencing effects, such as eye, nose or throat irritation and/or have a pre-existing medical condition then you should speak to your GP.
How is the pilot study different to previous efforts to determine the cause of odour?
Previously, we had used Ministry for the Environment guidance on key considerations when undertaking odour assessments.
As well, our response has been focused on acute odours, but we realised we need to address the ongoing chronic odours which really impact on residents.
While it might appear straightforward, determining the source of an odour to the degree necessary to support action required to address it is complex – there can be a number of variables involved – including wind, weather, distance, temperature and topography – and taking action requires a proper standard of evidence, which in turn helps ensure an appropriate action can be taken.
Previously, when reports were made, the situation could easily change by the time an officer arrived to investigate a report. The pilot study essentially crowd-sourced information from the community and used a range of other information sources to build a far more comprehensive picture of what was going on. This is a very new approach to addressing these sorts of issues.
Next steps
What happens now?
The two most significant odour emitters identified during the pilot study, Living Earth and EcoDrop are both run by the Christchurch City Council. Environment Canterbury and the Christchurch City Council will work together to ensure the situation improves quickly, and odour emissions continue to be well managed. Environment Canterbury will continue to work with other odour-emitting businesses in Bromley to address any odour issues they may present.
Was there any difference during the COVID-19 lockdown?
The lockdown provided a unique comparative opportunity for the pilot study, but odour reports continued throughout the lockdown period.
Won't shutting down these businesses just make the odour go away?
The nature of the two biggest odour emitting businesses means they require continued management to address odour. Just shutting them down may leave an unmanaged issue on site with no improvement to the odour. The facilities serve the broader Christchurch area, so shutting them down could create other problems elsewhere.
How fast can we expect to see the odour situation in Bromley improve?
Environment Canterbury and the Christchurch City Council will work together with the intention of seeing rapid improvement in the short-term. We would expect to see significant improvement in the situation over the next three months.
What about the other odours?
Environment Canterbury will continue to work with other odour-emitting businesses in Bromley to ensure they are managing odour appropriately, and that they make any changes necessary to improve.
Environment Canterbury will also continue to investigate what some describe as a particularly chronic combination of odours.
What should residents do now?
Residents are strongly encouraged to continue to use the Smelt-It app to report odour. This will be an important part of ensuring that measures being taken to improve the odour situation are effective as quickly as possible.