Molecular characterization of urban organic aerosol in tropical India: contributions of primary emissions and secondary photooxidation
Abstract. Organic molecular composition of PM10 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, C16 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 β-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.