Unexpected air pollutants with potential human health hazards: Nitrification inhibitors, biocides, and persistent organic substances


To better understand the influence of land use and meteorological parameters on air pollutants, we deployed passive air samplers in 15 regions with different land use in eastern Austria. The samplers consisted of polyurethane PUF and polyester PEF filter matrices, which were analyzed for 566 substances by gas-chromatography/mass-spectrometry. In a previous article, we highlighted a widespread contamination of ambient air with pesticides that depends on the surrounding land use and meteorological parameters. Here we report that, in addition to agricultural pesticides, eight other substances were frequently detected in ambient air: Nitrapyrin, a nitrification inhibitor used to increase nitrogen use efficiency of fertilizers and banned in Austria since 1993; biocides against insects (DEET and transfluthrin) used mainly outside agriculture; piperonyl butoxide (PBO), a synergist mixed into pesticide formulations; and four industrially used polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), long banned worldwide. Concentrations of the detected substances were positively related to air temperature, but only slightly related to agricultural land use in the sampler’s vicinity. The city center showed the highest concentrations of biocides, PCBs and PBO, but also medium concentrations of nitrapyrin. Four sites had no air contamination with these substances; including two national parks dominated by grassland or forest, but also two sites with mixed land use. The potential human toxicity of the detected substances based on globally harmonized hazard classifications was high: seven substances had specific organ toxicity, six were cancerogenic, and two were acutely toxic; however, several substances had incomplete information of hazard profiles. Moreover, all substances were acutely and chronically toxic to aquatic life. We recommend that substances of different origins be included in the air pollution monitoring portfolio to comprehensively assess the potential hazards to humans and the environment.

Read the paper here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969722077464