Articles | Volume 12, issue 24
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 12, 12293–12312, 2012
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 12, 12293–12312, 2012

Research article 21 Dec 2012

Research article | 21 Dec 2012

Gaseous VOCs rapidly modify particulate matter and its biological effects – Part 2: Complex urban VOCs and model PM

S. Ebersviller1, K . Lichtveld1, K. G. Sexton1, J. Zavala1, Y.-H. Lin1, I. Jaspers1,2, and H. E. Jeffries1 S. Ebersviller et al.
  • 1Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Gillings School of Global Public Health, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
  • 2Center for Environmental Medicine and Lung Biology, Human Studies Facility, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

Abstract. This is the second study in a three-part study designed to demonstrate dynamic entanglements among gaseous organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter (PM), and their subsequent potential biological effects. We study these entanglements in increasingly complex VOC and PM mixtures in urban-like conditions in a large outdoor chamber, both in the dark and in sunlight. To the traditional chemical and physical characterizations of gas and PM, we added new measurements of gas-only- and PM-only-biological effects, using cultured human lung cells as model living receptors. These biological effects are assessed here as increases in cellular damage or expressed irritation (i.e., cellular toxic effects) from cells exposed to chamber air relative to cells exposed to clean air. Our exposure systems permit side-by-side, gas-only- and PM-only-exposures from the same air stream containing both gases and PM in equilibria, i.e., there are no extractive operations prior to cell exposure for either gases or PM.

In Part 1 (Ebersviller et al., 2012a), we demonstrated the existence of PM "effect modification" (NAS, 2004) for the case of a single gas-phase toxicant and an inherently non-toxic PM (mineral oil aerosol, MOA). That is, in the presence of the single gas-phase toxicant in the dark, the initially non-toxic PM became toxic to lung cells in the PM-only-biological exposure system. In this Part 2 study, we used sunlit-reactive systems to create a large variety of gas-phase toxicants from a complex mixture of oxides of nitrogen and 54 VOCs representative of those measured in US city air. In these mostly day-long experiments, we have designated the period in the dark just after injection (but before sunrise) as the "Fresh" condition and the period in the dark after sunset as the "Aged" condition. These two conditions were used to expose cells and to collect chemical characterization samples. We used the same inherently non-toxic PM from the Part 1 study as the target PM for "effect modification". Fortunately, in the absence of "seed particles", the complex highly-reactive VOC system used does not create any secondary aerosol in situ. All PM present in these tests were, therefore, introduced by injection of MOA to serve as PM-to-be-modified by the gaseous environment. PM addition was only done during dark periods, either before or after the daylight period. The purpose of this design is to test if a non-toxic PM becomes toxic in initially unreacted ("Fresh"), or in reacted ("Aged") complex VOC conditions. To have a complete design, we also tested the effects of clean air and the same VOC conditions, but without introducing any PM. Thus, there were six exposure treatment conditions that were evaluated with the side-by-side, gas-only- and PM-only-effects exposure systems; five separate chamber experiments were performed: two with clean air and three with the complex VOC/NOx mixture.

For all of these experiments and exposures, chemical composition data and matching biological effects results for two end-points were compared. Chemical measurements demonstrate the temporal evolution of oxidized species, with a corresponding increase in toxicity observed from exposed cells. The largest increase in gas-phase toxicity was observed in the two "Aged" VOC exposures. The largest increase in particle-phase toxicity was observed in the "Aged" VOC exposure with the addition of PM after sunset. These results are a clear demonstration that the findings from Part 1 can be extended to the complex urban oxidized environment. This further demonstrates that the atmosphere itself cannot be ignored as a source of toxic species when establishing the risks associated with exposure to PM. Because gases and PM are transported and deposited differently within the atmosphere and lungs, these results have significant consequences. In the next (and final) part of the study, testing is further applied to systems with real diesel exhaust, including primary PM from a vehicle operated with different types of diesel fuel.

Final-revised paper