Factors determining the formation of secondary inorganic aerosol: a case study in the Po Valley (Italy)
Physicochemical properties of aerosol were investigated by analyzing the inorganic water soluble content in PM2.5 samples collected in the eastern part of the Po Valley (Italy). In this area the EU limits for many air pollutants are frequently exceeded as a consequence of local sources and regional-scale transport of secondary inorganic aerosol precursors. Nine PM2.5-bound major inorganic ions (F−, Cl−, NO3−, SO42−, Na+, NH4+, K+, Mg2+, Ca2+) were monitored over one year in three sites categorized as semi-rural background, urban background and industrial. The acidic properties of the PM2.5 were studied by applying the recently developed E-AIM thermodynamic model 4 (Extended Aerosol Thermodynamics Model). The experimental data were also examined in relation to the levels of gaseous precursors of secondary inorganic aerosol (SO2, NOx, NO, NO2) and on the basis of some environmental conditions having an effect on the secondary aerosols generation processes. A chemometric procedure using cluster analysis on experimental [NH4+]/[SO42−] molar ratio and NO3− concentration has been applied to determine the conditions needed for ammonium nitrate formation in different chemical environments. Finally, some considerations on the secondary inorganic aerosol formation and the most relevant weather conditions concerning the sulfate-nitrate-ammonium system were also discussed. The obtained results and discussion can help in understanding the secondary aerosol formation dynamics in the Po Valley, which is one of the most critical regions for air pollution in southern Europe.