Environmental science & technology

Sensitivity and bias of molecular marker-based aerosol source apportionment models to small conltibutions of coal combustion soot.

PMID 19921892


Carbonaceous atmospheric particulate matter (PM25) collected in the midwestern United States revealed that soot emissions from incomplete coal combustion were important sources of several organic molecular markers used in source apportionment studies. Despite not constituting a major source of organic carbon in the PM25, coal soot was an important source of polyaromatic hydrocarbons, hopanes, and elemental carbon. These marker compounds are becoming widely used for source apportionment of atmospheric organic PM, meaning that significant emissions of these marker compounds from unaccounted sources such as coal soot could bias apportionment results. This concept was demonstrated using measurements of atmospheric PM collected on a 1-in-6 day schedule at three monitoring sites in Ohio: Mingo Junction (near Steubenville), Cincinnati, and Cleveland. Impacts of coal sootwere measured to be significant at Mingo Junction and small at Cleveland and Cincinnati. As a result, biases in apportionment results were substantial at Mingo Junction and insignificant at Cleveland and Cincinnati. Misapportionments of organic carbon mass at Mingo Junction were significant when coal soot was detected in the particulate samples as identified bythe presence of picene, but when coal soot was not included in the model: gasoline engines (+8% to +58% of OC), smoking engines (0% to -17% of OC), biomass combustion (+1% to +11% of OC), diesel engines (-1% to -2% of OC), natural gas combustion (0% to -2% of OC), and unapportioned OC (0% to -47% of OC). These results suggest that the role of coal soot in source apportionment studies needs to be better examined in many parts of the United States and other parts of the world.