|Emissions from paints and other|
building materials contribute to
poor indoor air quality.
Emissions from adhesives in carpets, paint, wood fires, cooking, building materials and electronic devices like cell phones, TVs and computers are just some of the contributors. Being indoors, their effect is magnified because concentrations can build up if there is poor ventilation.
The quality of indoor atmospheres can be assessed by a technique called proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry (PTR-MS) due to the growing commercial availability of relatively small, mobile instruments that can be moved from location to location.
PTR is finding favor in a range of applications apart from air analysis, such as breath analysis for disease diagnosis and food analysis for sensory analysis and quality control.
In the simplest set up, H3O+ ions are produced by a hollow cathode discharge and are reacted with the pollutant molecules to give protonated molecules that are detected in a mass spectrometer.
The proton affinity of the target molecules must be greater than that of water for the reaction to proceed but this is the case for many common indoor pollutants. If not, other reagent ions like nitric oxide or krypton can be injected to produce the protonated reagents.
The ionisation technique is gentle, generally producing no other ions apart from the protonated molecules, but this is sufficient for monitoring purposes if the analytes are known.
Apart from detecting certain airborne pollutants, PTR-MS can also be used in a dynamic way to follow their levels over time. The viability of this approach has been demonstrated by European scientists who carried out a range of different experiments on different materials.
Applications of PTR-MS in Indoor Air:
1) Watching paint dry
2) Printing volatiles and building boards, including
- Laser printer operation
- Diffusion of toluene through a gypsum board (calculating diffusion coefficients)
- Measuring the emission of toluene
These examples used PTR quadrupole mass spectrometers but another application used a PTR-time-of-flight instrument in which the high-resolution capabilities allowed compounds to be identified as well as measured. This ability was demonstrated by studying the steady-state emission of volatile compounds from an oriented strand board, a type of building board.
The research team recommend the use of PTR-MS for analysing processes and materials in test chambers, like those they used for the current experiments.
Having said that, they point out that the technique does have its drawbacks. Target compounds with low proton affinities could be influenced by the humidity of the surrounding air. In addition, calibration to determine the analyte concentrations can be difficult.
The positive points are the good time resolution, high sensitivity and robustness of the technique. The low mass resolution of PTR-MS on quadrupole instruments can be countered by the new generation of PTR-TOF mass spectrometers to give a broadly applicable technique for studying indoor volatile compounds.