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Modern and Fossil Contributions to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in PM2.5 from North Birmingham, Alabama in the Southeastern U.S.

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posted on 2012-02-07, 00:00 authored by Li Xu, Mei Zheng, Xiang Ding, Eric S. Edgerton, Christopher M. Reddy
Analyzing the radiocarbon (14C) content of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in atmospheric particulate matter can provide estimates on the source contributions from biomass burning versus fossil fuel. The relative importance of these two sources to ambient PAHs varies considerably across regions and even countries, and hence there is a pressing need to apportion these sources. In this study, we advanced the radiocarbon analysis from bulk carbon to compound class specific radiocarbon analysis (CCSRA) to determine Δ14C and δ13C values of PAHs in PM2.5 samples for investigating biomass burning and fossil fuel source contributions to PAHs from one of the Southeastern Aerosol Research and Characterization (SEARCH) sites in North Birmingham (BHM), Alabama during winter (December 2004-February 2005) and summer (June-August 2005) by accelerator mass spectrometry. To compare our ambient samples to known sources, we collected and analyzed fenceline samples from the vicinity of a coke plant in BHM. As expected, PAHs from the coke plant fenceline samples had very low radiocarbon levels. Its Δ14C varied from −990 to −970‰, indicating that 97 to 99% were of fossil source. PAHs in the ambient PM2.5 had Δ14C from −968 to −911 ‰, indicating that 92–97% of PAHs were from fossil fuel combustion. These levels indicated the dominance of fossil sources of ambient PAHs. The radiocarbon level of ambient PAHs was higher in winter than in summer. Winter samples exhibited depleted δ13C value and enriched Δ14C value because of the increased contribution of PAHs from biomass burning source. However, biomass burning contributed more to heavier PAHs (modern source accounting for 6–8%) than lighter ones with a modern contribution of 3%.

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