Magazine article The New Yorker

STINKY TOWN; ROAD TEST Series: 4/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

STINKY TOWN; ROAD TEST Series: 4/5

Article excerpt

Summer, when the city becomes a giant convection oven, is smell season, so its opening day, coming as it did earlier this spring, before the recent cold snap, was something of a surprise. The mercury shot up above eighty, and all across the city long-dormant stenches began to stir, reminding New Yorkers that it will soon be time to employ their preferred odor-avoidance techniques: nose-holding, mouth-breathing, the strategic sniffing of a packet of mints.

Last year, Patus, an Israeli company, began marketing a clear gel called Odorscreen. Ilan Shatz, one of Patus's founders, had been in New York on business shortly after 9/11, and heard that recovery workers were complaining about the terrible smell at Ground Zero. Some workers had taken to spreading Vicks VapoRub under their noses. Odorscreen is applied in a similar fashion, but, rather than mask odors, as air fresheners and perfumes do, it temporarily alters the smell receptors in the nose, so the user perceives only the soothing scent of vanilla. (Or, in Asian markets, green tea: Patus is considering culture-specific Odorscreen formulas.) One of Patus's first clients was Zaka, the Israeli group that recovers bodies and body parts at the sites of accidents and bombings. This winter, after the tsunami in Asia, Patus distributed Odorscreen packets to relief workers there. These are far graver situations, surely, than the olfactory hazards of summer in the city, but Patus envisions consumer applications for Odorscreen, too, and New York is high on the company's list of stinky target markets.

Will it make it here? On that first smelly day, an independent expert was called in. Rich Anderson, a city sanitation worker from Bay Ridge, who spends his days picking up the garbage of Hell's Kitchen and Chelsea, agreed to give Odorscreen a whirl during his off hours.

The first stop was the Fulton Fish Market. "It should be pretty nasty right now," he said as he sat in his car, applying the gel. A pine-tree-shaped air freshener dangled from the rearview mirror. Anderson, who has a sturdy-looking nose, reviewed his olfactory biography. Earliest smell-memory: the bakeries of Bay Ridge on Sunday mornings. Pet peeve: freshly applied asphalt. …

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