The World's Worst Job: Latrine Odor Judge


(Photo: SuSanA Secretariat)

Get to work, graduate student. You want that doctorate, right? Keep at it and you could someday inflict this suffering on someone else.

An article by J. Lin et al. in Environmental Science & Technology examined the odors produced by open latrines. Their abstract shrouds their methodology in jargon, but get your nose in there and you can figure out what happened:

More than 2.5 billion people defecate in the open. The increased commitment of private and public organizations to improving this situation is driving the research and development of new technologies for toilets and latrines. Although key technical aspects are considered by researchers when designing new technologies for developing countries, the basic aspect of offending malodors from human waste is often neglected. With the objective of contributing to technical solutions that are acceptable to global consumers, we investigated the chemical composition of latrine malodors sampled in Africa and India. Field latrines in four countries were evaluated olfactively and the odors qualitatively and quantitatively characterized with three analytical techniques. Sulfur compounds including H2S, methyl mercaptan, and dimethyl-mono-(di;tri) sulfide are important in sewage-like odors of pit latrines under anaerobic conditions. Under aerobic conditions, in Nairobi for example, paracresol and indole reached concentrations of 89 and 65 μg/g, respectively, which, along with short chain fatty acids such as butyric acid (13 mg/g) explained the strong rancid, manure and farm yard odor. This work represents the first qualitative and quantitative study of volatile compounds sampled from seven pit latrines in a variety of geographic, technical, and economic contexts in addition to three single stools from India and a pit latrine model system.

Emphasis added. Now start smelling. For science!

-via Marginal Revolution


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Just when the 2014 Ig Nobels for public heath and safety were awarded, a new challenger emerges. 2015 is surely locked in at this point.
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