(M)VOC and composting facilities part 2: (M)VOC dispersal in the environment

  • Thomas Müller
  • Ralf Thißen
  • Silvia Braun
  • Wolfgang Dott
  • Guido Fischer
Research Article


Background, Aims and Scope

Composting facilities are known to release odorous volatiles due to biodegradation of municipal waste and plant residues. Although odour perception and its grading is influenced by experience, attitude and adaptation, these emissions have created a lack of acceptance for residents in the vicinity of composting facilities. Enclosure of compost pile halls, ventilation systems and biofilters are often insufficient to minimise the burden of compost-derived compounds in the air. Moreover, economic considerations forced smaller communities to establish less sophisticated facilities with open storage areas and other relevant sources for wind-borne dispersal of bioaerosols. Aim of the present study was to characterise the immission and dispersal of microbial volatiles (MVOC) and, besides, to find coincidences between MVOC and compost odour.


In the course of this study, the surroundings of two composting facilities, differing in their type of process engineering, were investigated for emission of volatiles in the environment. Both microbially and plant-derived substances were assessed, several of which have low odour thresholds. Air samples were taken in distances ranging from 50 to 800 m in a downwind direction from each facility.

Results and Discussion

Compost-derived and microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOC) were found at distances of up to 800 m from the composting facilities. Terpenes like alpha-pinene, camphene and camphor were the dominant compounds and coincided with typical compost odour, whereas several typical MVOC were not found at greater distances. The terpenes in combination with certain MVOC may play an important role in the perception of compost odour. Exposure concentrations were not of toxicological relevance, but sensory irritation and psychohygienic effects due to an annoyance potential of such compounds should not be dismissed.

Recommendations and Outlook

Although terpenes are generally associated with pleasant odour characteristics, they seemed to contribute to malodours in a mixture with other VOC, in this context of volatile waste from compost facilities. Malodorous emissions from biowaste have to be considered as sources of health complaints and the investigation of mixtures of compost-derived volatiles is still inevitable. Exposure levels have to be discussed taking VOC mixtures into account. Within composting facilities, technical devices have to be improved to minimise dispersal of volatiles to prevent residents from immissions eventually causing health complaints.


(M)VOC dispersal compost malodours odorous compounds residents volatiles 


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Copyright information

© Ecomed Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Hygiene and Environmental MedicineUniversity Hospital, Technical University of AachenAachenGermany

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