Hu­man snif­fers help iden­tify toxic tracks

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By LIU KUN in Wuhan and WANG XIAODONG in Bei­jing

At a lab­o­ra­tory in Wuhan, Hubei prov­ince, five cer­ti­fied odor iden­ti­fiers — peo­ple with sen­si­tive noses — were as­signed a spe­cial task. Each of them, wear­ing a white gown, opened a bot­tle con­tain­ing a 20-gram sam­ple of syn­thetic run­ning track ma­te­rial, and in­haled slowly for five sec­onds. Then they wrote down their re­sults.

The snif­fers, who are among the first such pro­fes­sion­als in Wuhan, were test­ing whether the plas­tic, planned for use in a run­ning track in­stal­la­tion at a pri­mary school, mea­sured up to en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards. An­other tech­ni­cian will give the sam­ples a fi­nal score based on the scores given by the snif­fers.

“It is very dif­fi­cult to test prod­ucts made of com­plex syn­thetic ma­te­ri­als, such as plas­tic tracks, by phys­i­cal or chem­i­cal in­stru­ments be­cause most in­stru­ments can only test for a few sub­stances at most, such as formalde­hyde or toluene,” said Wang Zhao­hui of the test­ing and re­search cen­ter of the Sports En­gi­neer­ing Key Lab of the Gen­eral Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Sport in Wuhan. “Smelling is a more di­rect and re­li­able way to de­ter­mine whether a sam­ple is poi­sonous.”

Af­ter the work of the odor iden­ti­fiers, other tests us­ing phys­i­cal or chem­i­cal in­stru­ments will be con­ducted to de­ter­mine whether the sam­ples are up to stan­dards, Wang said.

Odor iden­ti­fiers are usu­ally em­ployed to de­ter­mine whether emis­sions of one kind or an­other are within a cer­tain limit. The re­sults pro­vided by the cer­ti­fied snif­fers have le­gal ef­fects. Pol­lu­tant sources that emit ex­ces­sive odors — as de­ter­mined by the ex­pert snif­fers — are sub­ject to pun­ish­ment un­der laws and reg­u­la­tions, Wang said.

The cen­ter has 15 cer­ti­fied odor iden­ti­fiers whose av­er­age age is 30, said the cen­ter’s Shang Jian­hua, who has been an odor iden­ti­fier for three years.

Odor iden­ti­fiers must be in good con­di­tion, and they must ad­here to strict re­quire­ments, such as not us­ing cos­met­ics or eat­ing hot pot, which could af­fect their sense of smell, he said.

The cen­ter is plan­ning to train odor iden­ti­fiers specif­i­cally for plas­tic track pro­duc­ers so that bet­ter qual­ity tracks can be made, Wang said.

Syn­thetic run­ning tracks be­came a top con­cern for par­ents who have chil­dren in pri­mary or mid­dle schools af­ter me­dia re­ports about com­plaints about toxic tracks that sick­ened chil­dren.

In Si­jing Third Pri­mary School in Shang­hai’s Song jiang dis­trict, dozens of stu­dents dis­played symp­toms such as nose­bleeds, coughs and sore eyes in Septem­ber. Many of their par­ents blamed it on substandard plas­tic ma­te­rial used on the play­ground, say­ing it emit­ted a strong odor, ac­cord­ing to a re­port in China Youth Daily in Oc­to­ber.

Test­ing re­ports pro­vided by the school showed that toxic gases emit­ted from sam­ples — in­clud­ing formalde­hyde, ben­zene and toluene — met the stan­dards adopted in Shang­hai, the re­port said.

Lo­cal stan­dards for emis­sions of plas­tic tracks may not be re­li­able and may need im­prove­ment, the re­port said.

Con­tact the writers at wangx­i­aodong@ chi­


Res­i­dents at­tempt to catch fish in the Yel­low River in Pinglu, Shanxi prov­ince, on Sun­day. To pre­pare for the up­com­ing flood sea­son, the nearby San­menxia Reser­voir has been dis­charg­ing wa­ter to in­crease its stor­age ca­pac­ity dur­ing floods. The re­leases have meant faster wa­ter flow and tur­bu­lence that churns up sed­i­ment in the riverbed. The sed­i­ment, in turn, re­duces oxy­gen and drives fish to the sur­face.


An odor iden­ti­fier sniffs a sam­ple of ma­te­rial to be used for a plas­tic track to de­ter­mine whether it meets en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards.

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