Health Effects Associated with the Atmospheric Degradation of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

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Resource or Project Abstract

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are major air pollutants produced from combustion processes. They can be chemically transformed in the atmosphere to generate a range of secondary pollutants, including ozone and secondary organic aerosol (SOA) which are known to have an adverse effect on human health. In this project, a comprehensive programme of laboratory studies was carried out on the atmospheric degradation of three PAHs: 1. Naphthalene; 2. Acenaphthene; and 3. Acenaphthylene. The principal findings of the research are: - Naphthalene produces SOA in higher yields than most monoaromatic compounds, confirming that naphthalene is likely to be a significant source of SOA in urban areas. - The atmospheric degradation of naphthalene produces a range of products (some known to be toxic) that are partitioned between the gas and particle phases. The chemical composition of the particles continuously changes as a result of oxidation. - New information has been obtained on the atmospheric degradation of acenaphthene and acenaphthylene. The provision of accurate kinetic data has reduced the level of uncertainty over the atmospheric lifetimes of these compounds and new reaction pathways have been proposed for their atmospheric degradation. - Biochemical assays showed that the SOA generated from all three PAHs can produce reactive oxygen species and thus affect cellular function. Further tests, including those using cellbased assays, are required to investigate the reproducibility of the experiments and the possible correlation of quinone concentrations with toxicity. The type of information generated in this project can be used to assess the impact of PAH emissions on air quality and human health. Exposure to fine particulate matter is one of the primary threats to human health in Ireland and worldwide. A clear understanding of the sources and composition of fine particulate matter is therefore required to provide policy makers and legislators with the necessary information to reduce ambient levels in order to meet European Union directives on air quality.

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Contact Information for This Resource

Dr. Shouming Zhou
University of Toronto

Dr. John Wenger
University College Cork

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Offline Print Quality Version    STRIVE_62_Zhou_PAHs_prn.pdf  (1.31 Mb)
Project Report Optimised For Online Viewing    STRIVE_62_Zhou_PAHs_web.pdf  (0.67 Mb)

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Author(s)Zhou, S. Wenger, J.
Title Of WebsiteSecure Archive For Environmental Research Data
Publication InformationHealth Effects Associated with the Atmospheric Degradation of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
Name of OrganisationEnvironmental Protection Agency Ireland
Electronic Address or URL
Unique Identifier703246f0-535b-102e-a0a4-f81fb11d7d1c
Date of AccessLast Updated on SAFER: 2024-07-23

An example of this citation in proper usage:

Zhou, S. Wenger, J.   "Health Effects Associated with the Atmospheric Degradation of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons". Associated datasets and digitial information objects connected to this resource are available at: Secure Archive For Environmental Research Data (SAFER) managed by Environmental Protection Agency Ireland (Last Accessed: 2024-07-23)


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Access Information For This Resource

SAFER-Data Display URL
Resource KeywordsPolycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) air pollutants combustion Biochemical assays atmospheric degradation
EPA/ERTDI/STRIVE Project Code2007-FS-EH-3M5
EPA/ERTDI/STRIVE Project ThemeEnvironmental Technologies
Resource Availability: Any User Can Download Files From This Resource
Limitations on the use of this ResourceThe reliability, quality and completeness of data gained through SAFER-Data is intended to be used in an education or research context. These data are not guaranteed for use in operational or decision-making settings. The EPA and SAFER-Data requests an acknowledgement (in publications, conference papers, etc) from those who use data/information received with SAFER-Data. This acknowledgement should state the original creators of the data/information. An automated citation is provided below. It is not ethical to publish data/information without proper attribution or co-authorship. The data/information are the intellectual property of the collecting investigator(s). The data/information may be freely downloaded and used by all who respect the restrictions and requirements in the previous paragraphs.
Number of Attached Files (Publicly and Openly Available for Download): 2
Project Start Date Monday 1st January 2007 (01-01-2007)
Earliest Recorded Date within any attached datasets or digital objects Monday 1st January 2007 (01-01-2007)
Most Recent Recorded Date within any attached datasets or digital objects Tuesday 1st December 2009 (01-12-2009)
Published on SAFERTuesday 7th December 2010 (07-12-2010)
Date of Last EditTuesday 7th December 2010 at 14:11:37 (07-12-2010)
Datasets or Files Updated On Tuesday 7th December 2010 at 14:11:37 (07-12-2010)

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Geographical and Spatial Information Related To This Resource

Description of Geographical Characteristics of This Project or Dataset
This project was completely lab based with the following equipment used: The 6,500-l atmospheric simulation chamber at University College Cork, The 3,910-l reaction chamber at University College Cork, and The Aerosol Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometer (TSI 3800) used in the experimental work at University College Cork.

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Supplementary Information About This Resource

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Lineage information about this project or dataset
The overall goal of this research project was to investigate the health effects associated with the atmospheric degradation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Three key objectives were identified: 1. Determination of the yield of SOA produced from the atmospheric degradation of PAHs; 2. Identification and quantification of the major gasand particle-phase degradation products; and 3. Investigations into the toxicological effects of the SOA produced from PAHs. The research programme presented in this proposal will provide important information on the atmospheric degradation of a number of PAHs and the associated health effects. The information can be used to assess the impact of PAH emissions on air quality and will also prove useful to scientists investigating the health effects of photochemical smog and SOA. The proposed work is of high national relevance as indicated in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) annual reports on the state of the environment, which regularly identify "nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter as the primary threat to the quality of air in Ireland".
Supplementary Information
A detailed programme of laboratory experiments was performed on the atmospheric degradation of naphthalene. The yields of SOA formed from the gasphase reaction of naphthalene with the OH radical were found to be dependent on the concentrations of naphthalene and NOx as well as on the RH, being higher with higher hydrocarbon (HC)/NOx and higher RH. The higher SOA yields with higher HC/NOx could be attributed to RO2-NOx chemistry as discussed above. However, the reason for the higher SOA yields at higher RH remains unclear and further investigations into the effects of RH on the SOA yields are therefore needed. The gas- and particle-phase atmospheric oxidation products of naphthalene were identified using GC-MS. A series of carbonyls and hydroxylated compounds were identified. However, many of these products are not commercially available and quantification is thus problematic. Aerosol Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry was utilised to analyse the composition of SOA in real time, providing useful information on the composition and formation mechanisms of SOA from atmospheric degradation of naphthalene. Further experiments are recommended to investigate the SOA chemical composition under different initial conditions, e.g. presence/absence of NOx and different RH values. A series of experiments was also performed on two other PAHs, acenaphthene and acenaphthylene. Rate coefficients for the reaction of these compounds with OH radicals, NO3 radicals and O3 were measured and used to calculate atmospheric lifetimes. The results suggest that acenaphthene and acenaphthylene will react within a few hours of being released into the atmosphere and therefore contribute to local air pollution. Detailed studies on the OH-radical-initiated oxidation of acenaphthene and acenaphthylene were performed and the gas- and particle- phase products were determined. Reaction mechanisms for the atmospheric degradation of acenaphthene and acenaphthylene were proposed. Further investigations on the products and mechanisms for the reactions with the NO3 radical and O3 are recommended. Experiments were also performed to assess the relative toxicity of SOA formed from the atmospheric degradation of naphthalene, acenaphthene and acenaphthylene. A preliminary study involving the use of a biochemical (DTT) assay showed that the SOA from acenaphthylene and acenaphthene produced the highest and lowest amounts of ROS, respectively. Further tests, including those using cell-based assays, are required to investigate the reproducibility of the experiments and the possible correlation of quinone concentrations with toxicity.
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