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Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  04 Nov 2020

04 Nov 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

Identification and Source Attribution of Organic Compounds in Ultrafine Particles near Frankfurt International Airport

Florian Ungeheuer1, Dominik van Pinxteren2, and Alexander L. Vogel1 Florian Ungeheuer et al.
  • 1Institute for Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, Goethe-University Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main, 60438, Germany
  • 2Atmospheric Chemistry Department (ACD), Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research (TROPOS), Leipzig, 04318, Germany

Abstract. Analysing the composition of ambient ultrafine particles (UFP) is a challenging task due to the low mass and chemical complexity of small particles, yet it is a prerequisite for the identification of particle sources and the assessment of potential health risks. Here, we show the molecular characterization of UFP, based on cascade impactor (Nano-MOUDI) samples that were collected at an air quality monitoring station nearby one of Europe's largest airports in Frankfurt, Germany. At this station, particle-size-distribution measurements show enhanced number concentration of particles smaller than 50 nm during airport operating hours. We sampled the lower UFP fraction (0.010–0.018 μm; 0.018–0.032 μm; 0.032–0.056 μm) when the air masses arrived from the airport. We developed an optimized filter extraction procedure, used ultra-high performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) for compound separation, and a heated electrospray ionization (HESI) source with an Orbitrap high-resolution mass spectrometer (HRMS) as a detector for organic compounds. A non-target screening detected ~200 organic compounds in the UFP fraction with sample-to-blank ratios larger than five. We identified the largest signals as homologous series of pentaerythritol esters (PEE) and trimethylolpropane esters (TMPE), which are base stocks of aircraft lubrication oils. We unambiguously attribute the majority of detected compounds to jet engine lubrication oils by matching retention times, high-resolution/accurate mass (HR/AM) measurements, and comparing MS/MS fragmentation patterns between both ambient samples and commercially available jet oils. For each UFP stage, we created molecular fingerprints to visualize the complex chemical composition of the organic fraction and their average carbon oxidation state. These graphs underline the presence of the homologous series of PEE and TMPE, and the appearance of jet oil additives (e.g. tricresyl phosphate (TCP)). Targeted screening on TCP confirmed the absence of the harmful tri-ortho isomer, while we identified a thermal transformation product of TMPE-based lubrication oil (trimethylolpropane phosphate (TMP-P)). Even though a quantitative determination of the identified compounds is limited, the presented method enables the qualitative detection of molecular markers for jet engine lubricants in UFP and thus strongly improves the source apportionment of UFP near airports.

Florian Ungeheuer et al.

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Florian Ungeheuer et al.

Florian Ungeheuer et al.


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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
We analysed the chemical composition of ultrafine particles from 10–56 nm near Frankfurt airport, based on cascade impactor samples. We used an offline non-target screening to determine size-resolved molecular fingerprints. Unambiguous attribution of two homologous ester series to jet engine oils enables a new strategy of source attribution, and explains the majority of the detected compounds. In addition, we identified additives of jet oils and a detrimental thermal transformation product.
We analysed the chemical composition of ultrafine particles from 10–56 nm near Frankfurt...