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Molecular characterization of urban organic aerosol in tropical India: contributions of primary emissions and secondary photooxidation

by P. Q. Fu, K. Kawamura, C. M. Pavuluri, T. Swaminathan, J. Chen
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics ()
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Organic molecular composition of PM sub(10) samples, collected at Chennai in tropical India, was studied using capillary gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Fourteen organic compound classes were detected in the aerosols, including aliphatic lipids, sugar compounds, lignin products, terpenoid biomarkers, sterols, aromatic acids, hydroxy-/polyacids, phthalate esters, hopanes, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), and photooxidation products from biogenic Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). At daytime, phthalate esters were found to be the most abundant compound class; however, at nighttime, fatty acids were the dominant one. Di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, C sub(16) fatty acid, and levoglucosan were identified as the most abundant single compounds. The nighttime maxima of most organics in the aerosols indicate a land/sea breeze effect in tropical India, although some other factors such as local emissions and long-range transport may also influence the composition of organic aerosols. However, biogenic VOC oxidation products (e.g., 2-methyltetrols, pinic acid, 3-hydroxyglutaric acid and b-caryophyllinic acid) showed diurnal patterns with daytime maxima. Interestingly, terephthalic acid was maximized at nighttime, which is different from those of phthalic and isophthalic acids. A positive relation was found between 1,3,5-triphenylbenzene (a tracer for plastic burning) and terephthalic acid, suggesting that the field burning of municipal solid wastes including plastics is a significant source of terephthalic acid. Organic compounds were further categorized into several groups to clarify their sources. Fossil fuel combustion (24-43%) was recognized as the most significant source for the total identified compounds, followed by plastic emission (16-33%), secondary oxidation (8.6-23%), and microbial/marine sources (7.2-17%). In contrast, the contributions of terrestrial plant waxes (5.9-11%) and biomass burning (4.2-6.4%) were relatively small. This study demonstrates that, in addition to fossil fuel combustion and biomass burning, the open-burning of plastics in urban area also contributes to the organic aerosols in South Asia.

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