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Open AccessArticle

Optimization of a Method for the Detection of Biomass-Burning Relevant VOCs in Urban Areas Using Thermal Desorption Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry

Physical Sciences Division, School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, University of Washington Bothell, 18115 Campus Way NE, Bothell, WA 98011, USA
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Atmosphere 2020, 11(3), 276; https://doi.org/10.3390/atmos11030276
Received: 31 January 2020 / Revised: 5 March 2020 / Accepted: 10 March 2020 / Published: 11 March 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Atmospheric Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs))
Forest fire smoke influence in urban areas is relatively easy to detect at high concentrations but more challenging to detect at low concentrations. In this study, we present a simplified method that can reliably quantify smoke tracers in an urban environment at relatively low cost and complexity. For this purpose, we used dual-bed thermal desorption tubes with an auto-sampler to collect continuous samples of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). We present the validation and evaluation of this approach using thermal desorption gas chromatography mass spectrometry (TD-GC-MS) to detect VOCs at ppt to ppb concentrations. To evaluate the method, we tested stability during storage, interferences (e.g., water and O3), and reproducibility for reactive and short-lived VOCs such as acetonitrile (a specific chemical tracer for biomass burning), acetone, n-pentane, isopentane, benzene, toluene, furan, acrolein, 2-butanone, 2,3-butanedione, methacrolein, 2,5- dimethylfuran, and furfural. The results demonstrate that these VOCs can be quantified reproducibly with a total uncertainty of ≤30% between the collection and analysis, and with storage times of up to 15 days. Calibration experiments performed over a dynamic range of 10–150 ng loaded on to each thermal desorption tube at different relative humidity showed excellent linearity (r2 ≥ 0.90). We utilized this method during the summer 2019 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fire Influence on Regional to Global Environments Experiment–Air Quality (FIREX-AQ) intensive experiment at the Boise ground site. The results of this field study demonstrate the method’s applicability for ambient VOC speciation to identify forest fire smoke in urban areas. View Full-Text
Keywords: VOC auto-sampler; acetonitrile; acetone; thermal desorption tubes; GC-MS VOC auto-sampler; acetonitrile; acetone; thermal desorption tubes; GC-MS
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Chandra, B.P.; McClure, C.D.; Mulligan, J.; Jaffe, D.A. Optimization of a Method for the Detection of Biomass-Burning Relevant VOCs in Urban Areas Using Thermal Desorption Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry. Atmosphere 2020, 11, 276.

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