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Odour, the hidden enemy of Law

For the first time, a thesis of the University of Alicante warns of legal vaccum on the physical and psychological consequences of the impact of odours


Alicante, 20 July 2015

The human nose distinguishes over 10,000 different smells, in fact, our mind stores different scents that evoke fond memories and moments throughout our lives. But what happens when we are exposed to an unpleasant smell daily? 

Smells can be annoying, cause rejection and affect the quality of life, so it can be regarded as a form of environmental pollution despite not containing toxic or hazardous substances.

Given that complaints of offensive odours are subjective statements, a doctoral student in the Department of State Legal Studies of the University of Alicante, Elizabeth Basto Gómez has investigated, for the first time, odours control and legal protection in this area.

According to the author of this thesis on Odour and the Law - the first in this field to be carried out in Spain - and due to the subjective component of smells and the difficulty of discerning between pleasant and unpleasant, it is difficult to determine what is legally permissible when it comes to set maximum tolerance.

After several years as a city councillor having to cope with the establishment of a new waste plant,  Elizabeth Basto experienced the ignorance and loopholes regarding the phenomenon of odours. As she stated, at first, the administration tends to deny the severity of the problem and addressed the arguments of the plant managers but the reality is that the consequences on the community living around the plant were many, since it affected the quality of life of people, plants, animals, and even clothes became impregnated with that odour.

There are many scientific studies supporting that stench (unpleasant, pungent odour) impacts on memory and entails serious physical consequences such as loss of sense of smell, rhinitis ..., as well as psychological, such as panic and aggression. This is why Basto insists in the importance of drafting the legal framework and develop national legislation to protect civil society from exposure to odours in the environment, as it was carried out in Japan over thirty years ago..



Olfactometry, expert-nose panels and olfactory maps are listed in her thesis on Odours and the Law as powerful tools for the study and control of odours to determine how to measure, report and stop it. The author of this thesis states that it is time to standardise with competent authority the mechanisms and legal tools against a problem that affects many people as it has already been proved in the field of marketing and sales how odours determine people’s behaviour.

Another measure proposed by Elizabeth Basto is the creation of mechanisms for participation and hold a referendum to know what society’s margin of sacrifice to a new infrastructure or project in their area is.

Ultimately, it is important to create a legal framework, standardising and formalising rules on criminal, administrative, economic and moral responsibility concerning the phenomenon of odours. The State should guarantee the quality of life of its citizens, as summarised by the author, who is already a UA Ph.D.


Thesis under international joint supervision

This work, led by Gabriel Real and Paulo Cruz, from the Department of State Legal Studies, is part of a joint degree programme signed by the University of Alicante and Univali University in Brazil, to start international joint supervision study programmes supported by both institutions in the field of Legal Science.


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