Smell PGH—a mobile app built by Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab—has provided residents with a tool to sniff out the sources behind noxious, and possibly dangerous odors in their neighborhoods. And in Pittsburgh, a city with notoriously poor air quality, it comes in especially handy. CREATE Lab claims that since they launched the app 10 months ago, it’s been downloaded more than 1,300 times and has been used to report foul odors more than 4,300 times.
Now CREATE Lab has released an improved version of the app to further empower average citizens impacted by the stink of pollution.
Researchers at CREATE Lab rolled out a new set of features for Smell PGH, which works by allowing users to track and report instances of bad smells in and around their homes, work, schools and other places they frequent. The app now includes helpful time-lapse animations on its map, which shift and change based on smell reports submitted throughout the day.
“These features enable residents to better understand how changes in wind speed and direction, coupled with Pittsburgh’s air quality and topography, contribute to the pollution odors they experience,” says CREATE Lab project director Beatrice Dias.
The team also released the Smell PGH website to provide better access to the smell map visualization and downloadable smell report data generated since the app’s initial release. Dias believes the information provided on the new website can “facilitate citizen science and help highlight human experiences related to pollution.”
Smell PGH was inspired by CREATE Lab’s experience with the Neville Island citizen action group Allegheny County Clean Air Now and their battle with Shenango Coke Works, a smoke-spewing plant they deemed responsible for making their community practically unlivable. CREATE Lab then developed the app with support from The Heinz Endowments and with help from several local environmental groups, including Allegheny County Clean Air Now, PennEnvironment and the Group Against Smog and Pollution.
CREATE Lab also works with the Allegheny County Health Department to ensure that all foul air complaints are forwarded for investigation. As part of that process, Smell PGH users are able to note the nature and intensity of smells, as well as any symptoms they might be experiencing, such as headaches or nausea.
In a short time, Smell PGH has become an effective resource for those negatively impacted by industrial pollution. For example, local environmental documentarian and activist Mark Dixon said that he regularly uses Smell PGH in his work and everyday life as a way to “see whether the air is suitable for me to go jogging outside.”