Odour as a determinant of persistent symptoms after a chemical explosion, a longitudinal study
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Foul-smelling environmental pollution was a major concern following a chemical workplace explosion. Malodorous pollution has previously been associated with aggravated physical and psychological health, and in persons affected by a trauma, an incidence-related odour can act as a traumatic reminder. Olfaction may even be of significance in the development and persistence of post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS). The present longitudinal study assessed whether perceived smell related to malodorous environmental pollution in the aftermath of the explosion was a determinant of subjective health complaints (SHC) and PTSS among gainfully employed adults, when the malodorous pollution was present, and after pollution clean-up. Questionnaire data from validated instruments were analysed using mixed effects models. Individual odour scores were computed, and the participants (n=486) were divided into high and low odour score groups, respectively. Participants in the high odour score group (n=233) reported more SHC and PTSS than those in the low odour score group (n=253), before and even after the pollution was eliminated. These associations lasted for at least three years after the pollution was removed, and might indicate that prompt clean-up is important to avoid persistent health effects after malodorous chemical spills.