Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Smell as a Weapon

There are two odors that transcend culture when it comes to bad smells; the odor of decay and that of human excrement. These offensive odors have tremendous appeal for the Pentagon's Non-lethal Weapons Program, which has participated in a Harry Potteresque "dark arts" form of perfumery since World War II. Two well-known stinktacular creations (which failed miserably due to dispersion issues) were "Who Me?" and "U.S. Government Standard Bathroom Malodor".  The names sound like something straight out of a CB I Hate Perfume catalog as they are blunt and leave little to the olfactory imagination.

It's been several decades since "Who Me?" and "U.S. Government Standard Bathroom Malodor" were created. In 2002 The Monell Chemical Senses Center was experimenting with universally repulsive smells and narrowed the stink categories down to odors of human waste, body odors, burnt hair, and rotting garbage (the kinds of smells capable of inciting episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder in combat veterans and good old fashioned revulsion in civilians). Though one may argue that Snooki's new perfume could save the military millions of dollars in stink bomb research, the perfect stink bomb for crowd control/riot deployment has yet to be created (or hacked by LulzSec who some may argue deserve a fine fragrance of their own).
Research that led to the development of "Who Me?" and "U.S. Standard Bathroom Malodor" has inspired a line of personal defense products for consumers. These products don't resemble the prank stink bombs of childhood; they're hardcore malodorants. They can be your weapon of choice, should you chose to defend yourself in a highly unpredictable manner that may result in an unpleasant scenario for you as well as your target. The ingredients are mysterious, but the claims possess all the glamour of spy catalog ad copy. Self Defense Products offers the following stinkers for your offensive odor displeasure: Nasal Nausea, Unnatural Gas, Liquid Roadkill and the ubiquitous Stink Bomb.

Further reading, which includes all the gruesome details regarding smell as a weapon, may be found in "Stench Warfare," an article published in the 2001 edition of New Scientist . It is available, in its entirety, in the 2001 archives of Science Blog.

The Wikipedia "Stink Bomb" page has all the molecular details regarding stink bombs.

Photo of Nasal Nausea from the Self Defense Products website. Camouflage editing by Glass Petal Smoke.