Oct. 23, 1998 Composting is an increasingly popular trash disposal option for communities looking for alternatives to landfills and burning. But nearby residents often complain about the smell of rotting refuse. Now, scientists and engineers at Cornell University and the University of California, Davis, believe they have identified compounds that may serve as early warning of impending odors, potentially allowing operators to modify the process and prevent the problems.
Results of their four-year study in how to better control municipal compost emissions are scheduled to appear in the December 1 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, a peer-reviewed, semi-monthly publication of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.
In particular, carbon monoxide is cited by the investigators as a reliable predictor of pending objectionable odors. "CO was emitted prior to the detection of organosulfur compounds," the report states. Monitoring early carbon monoxide emissions and making adjustments in aeration and water levels during composting can help increase efficiency and also prevent odors, the study concludes.
Uncontrolled odors are "one of the most difficult problems facing the composting industry," according to the report's lead author Jean VanderGheynst, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biological engineering at UC-Davis, and "odor emissions are related to how a compost process is managed," she claims.
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