One Man Hopes People Will Use Their Phones – and Their Noses – to Help Louisville Smell Better

Ted Smith believes in the power of “citizen science” – that’s the accumulation of data gathered by citizens used to improve the lives of those in a particular geographic area.

Now, the former Innovation Director for Metro Louisville is involved in a project that could improve the smell of the city. “Smell Louisville” is an app, available on iPhones and Androids, in which citizens can report suspicious smells when they occur. That, in theory, will lead to an accumulation of data pinpointing the details of suspicious odors.

“People are part of the solution, and they report odors,” says Smith, whose son, Andrew, helped develop the app while a student at Manual High School. “It can be a useful tool. The challenge is get folks in the habit of reporting.”

For that, Smith is working with the West Jefferson County Community Task Force. At a recent meeting, executive director Arnita Gadson appealed to the group to get the word out, even offering a $25 incentive to people to sign up to report the odors.

The Task Force has long been involved in issues that affect the environment in West Louisville. Each of the region’s 12 neighborhoods is represented on the Task Force, along with larger industries, including those in Rubbertown, a source of odor complaints in the past.

The app, which was rolled out in April 2018, follows a model developed at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and is being tested in other cities as a national model.

Smith says the current goal is sign up 20 people per week to use the app; ultimately, he hopes to get thousands of people using it. He said that West Louisville’s history of odor concerns, combined with the focus of the Task Force, could result in feedback that could foster real change. The effort is supported by the city’s Air Pollution Control District, which has received more than 6,000 odor complaints since 2012.

Smith says the data collected by Smell Louisville could lead to meaningful statistics about local emissions. For example, he says there is a fear that companies release emissions during non-standard business hours. If there were citizen reporting on smells occurring at the same time, it could help show if that really was a problem.

For Smith, this idea of creating and using data to improve lives is more than theory. He was involved in the AIR Louisville project, which enrolled 1,147 citizens and tracked where, when, and why they had asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms based on data from an attachment to their inhalers.

The two-year study collected 1.2 million data points, including over 251,000 medication puffs. That information was combined with environmental factors to create maps of danger zones in neighborhoods, and areas that needed improvement. As a result, there was an 82 percent reduction in asthma inhaler use, and the study’s results were used to recommend planting of trees and alternative truck routes to avoid high-risk areas.

“We learned, using this citizen data, there are things we can do to exacerbate problems,” says Smith. “That makes a difference in people’s lives.”

For information on the project or to report odors, send an email to SmellLouisville@gmail.com or download the app.

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