Rice study identifies sources of Houston smog particulates

hese markers in each sample and comparing them to source emissions records, Fraser and graduate students Birnur Buzcu and David Yue were able to determine the precise proportion of particulate matter produced by each source.

The study is part of ongoing national effort to better characterize and understand the sources of fine particles in the atmosphere. Compared to gas pollutants like carbon dioxide and ozone, relatively little research has been conducted in the area of airborne particulates. Air quality researchers want to know more because a growing body of medical evidence suggests that exposure to fine particulate matter can cause serious health problems.

The source apportionment of fine particles did not focus on ammonium sulfate -- a byproduct of large scale, industrial fossil fuel combustion. As the largest single component of particulate matter -- accounting for some 40 percent -- a number of previous studies have investigated the sources of ammonium sulfate. Instead, Fraser's team focused on less understood sources of fine particles like vehicle emissions.

Diesel exhausts, which accounted for only 4 percent of particulates at the Galveston site, accounted for up to 17 percent at urbanized locations. Particulates from gasoline-powered vehicles, which also accounted for only 4 percent of the ambient particles in Galveston, accounted for up to 13 percent of particulates at urban locations.

At all but one location near the ship channel, road dust contributed fewer particulates than vehicle exhaust. At the suburban location, road dust was measured at just over one microgram per cubic meter. While this was 10 times the background level of road dust measured at Galveston, it was still less than less than half the mass of particles collected from diesel exhaust.

The study found that fuel oil combustion, a common practice at the industrial plants located along the ship channel, produced up to 1.5 micrograms of particulates pe

Contact: Jade Boyd
Rice University

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