Odor fighter`s job really does stink


Courtesy of Bowker & Associates, Inc.

Robert Bowker's job stinks, and he known it.

Bowker is one of handful of odor control engineers in the country. He visits sewage treatment plants around the world and recommends ways to relieve the stench. This week he is visiting Concord's plant.

Vowker grew up in Maine and received a civil engineering degree from the University of New Hampshire before earning a msater's of environmental engineering from Cornell University.

He became involved with odor contrl when he worked for the Environmental Protection Agency from 1976 to 1983, and he co-authored an EPA manual on sewage odor control as a private consultant.

That work certified Bowker as an exper, and he's been working directly with local governments and their odor problems ever since.

The smell can get bad, he says - Woonscocket, R.L., Indinapolis and Singapore were the worst of the 100 or so he's smelled - but Bowker doesn't regret his carrer path.

'at least here, I colud be doing something that is benefiting people,' he said.

The stink-sensing industry has made taken some technological leaps forward recently, says Bowker, but it is the human nose, his in particular, that Bowker uses most in his investigations.

Machines can analyze the chemical content of noxious gases, but they can't say what smells, how much it smells, or what it smells like.

Bowker belives he can recommend workwhile improvements, but said completely removing sewage smell usually is impossible,

'they all stink Some worse than others, but they all have odors,' he said.

Many residents near the Concord plant would agree, having endured its stench for a decade.

Once of the main problems at the Concord plant is that most of the treatment proces happens in giant, open-air tanks. One soultion is to seal off the tanks and 'scrub' the air with chemicals before it is released.

But that could cost a lot. Bowker that could cost a lot. Bowker hopes to identify the worst offenders so the city can economize.

To do that, he lowers himself over the vats of sewage, in various stages of treatment, and takes air samples in special plastic bags.

Bowker than sips the bags overnight to a laboratory in Minesota, where a panel of scientists will try to identiy the scents and rank their rankess.

The scientists must identify how potent a particular odor must be for a human nose to smell it, so they deal with heavily diluted concentrations.

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