Understanding the origin of aerosols in the atmosphere is important because of visual pollution, climate impacts, and deleterious health effects due to the inhalation of fine particles. This research analyzed aerosols characterized by their chloride, sulfate, and nitrate content as a function of size over a 3-month period. Due to wind patterns over coal-burning power plants, a higher concentration of local sulfate pollution was expected. Aerosols were harvested on the Purdue University campus using a high-volume air sampler with glass fiber filters and a five-stage impactor that separates the aerosols into five sizes. The filters were extracted in water to dissolve anions and the solution was analyzed using high-pressure liquid ion chromatography. Only trace amounts of chloride with no distinct patterns in size were detected. In total, nitrate content ranged from 0.12 to 2.10 μg/m3 and sulfate content ranged from 0.44 to 6.45 μg/m3 over a 3-month period. As for fine particles, a higher concentration of sulfate was observed. The Hybrid Single-Particle Lagrangian Integrated Trajectory (HYSPLIT) model determines air mass origin, and in this study, higher total sulfate content was observed when the air mass moved out of the southwest, and higher total nitrate content was observed when the air mass originated from the southeast. The author concluded that small particles resulted in sulfate from sulfur dioxide, typically from gas to particle conversion. High sulfur dioxide levels are directly correlated with coal-burning power plant density. Small particulate sulfate found in West Lafayette, Indiana, was determined to originate primarily from power plants in southwest Indiana. Though the results do show a significant amount of potentially harmful aerosols in West Lafayette, there is still further research to be done concerning isotopic composition of those particles in attempts to better explain the chemical pathways.
"Is Distant Pollution Contaminating Local Air? Analyzing the Origins of Atmospheric Aerosols,"
The Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research:
Vol. 2, Article 4.