What is the strongest smell you can think of?
Two odors, qualitatively different, come to my mind: the assaulting smell that emanates from the garbage bins outside my building; and, on the opposite end of the smell spectrum, my Mom’s kitchen when she’s roasting chicken.
The former is odious, the latter delicious. But which smell is stronger?
It would be interesting to compare the two scientifically. After all, odor strength can have big consequences. Earlier this year, a judge in Los Angeles County ordered the makers of the beloved Sriracha hot sauce to suspend operations because of complaints made about its factory's stench.
For a quantitative measurement, you can now turn to a tool called a field olfactometer. Also known as the Nasal Ranger, it’s a portable odor detecting device that measures odor strength. Just think of the possibilities!
Created by St. Croix Sensory Inc. in Stillwater, Minn., the Nasal Ranger was first developed to help regulatory officials establish smell standards for industrial facilities and restaurants. Most recently, it has been used by authorities regulating the odors from marijuana grow houses in Denver, said Michael McGinley, St. Croix’s laboratory director.
“They had a lot of complaints come in relating to these pot grow houses,” said McGinley, “and they utilized the nasal ranger to go out and understand how strong are those smells versus the amount of complaints coming in.”
This is how the Nasal Ranger works: shaped like elongated blow horn, you stick your nose into its rear nozzle when rating an odor. The device has two front filters that filter out smell. Starting at 60 (meaning the Nasal Ranger is diluting a smell 60 times its strength), you ratchet down the filter setting until you smell the odor.
The highest rating is 60 (expect that of a dumpster on a hot day, said McGinley). A rating of 7 (a dilution factor of 7) means the smell could be deemed bothersome. Anything below 7 shouldn’t elicit much of a reaction from a bystander.
Intrigued by the Nasal Ranger’s powers, ABC News’ Matt Gutman put it through its paces at the Big Apple Circus -- a place sure to contain a cornucopia of smells, good and bad.
Watch the video above to find out where the strongest stench was.