Raising standards and lowering barriers for air particle analysis

Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe…”, begins a classic pop song from the 1970s. Indeed, there are few things more essential to life than air: the average person consumes about 250 million liters during their lifetime, sucking in up to 20 million air particles with every breath.

Not everything we breathe is good for us, though. Over 90% of the global population lives in locations where fine-particle air pollution exceeds the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. Potential health issues resulting from this daily exposure include stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and other serious illnesses. Not surprisingly, poor air has emerged as the world’s single biggest environmental cause of premature death, killing 7 million people every year.

Putting it to the test

As the links between air pollution and public health become increasingly understood, governments and authorities have been fighting back with tougher restrictions.

In most countries, the focus has been on containing emissions of smaller particles known as PM10 and PM2.5, which are especially damaging to human health. These highly toxic pollutants are small enough to be inhaled into respiratory systems through the simple act of breathing.

But to enforce the required restrictions, authorities need to understand what they’re dealing with. This means being able to accurately gauge the level of airborne particulate concentrations within a certain area, and then determine the sources of these impurities. And that means testing, testing, and more testing.

Here, advanced elemental analysis technology can play an important role by enabling more accurate profiling of particles. Designed according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) method IO-3.3, energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (EDXRF) accurately identifies the composition of particles on air filters to determine their toxicity and their source.

Bringing down barriers

However, high-quality air particulate X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis demands significant initial investment by testing agencies or research institutes, in order to purchase the required certified references materials.

At Malvern Panalytical, we have identified this barrier to entry as a critical issue for customers. For this, we offer a ready-made solution: the Epsilon 4 benchtop system, with a fast, accurate application, set up in our factory according to the EPA IO-3.3 method.

Because our spectrometer is shipped to customers solution-ready from installation, only a single investment is required, eliminating extensive, ongoing start-up costs and minimizing set-up time.

Expanding the accessibility of crucial testing equipment is an important step toward improving air quality. With authorities better informed and able to tackle the root causes of air pollution, little by little, we can hopefully all start to breathe a little easier.

Join the free ‘Focus on The Air You Breathe – Elemental Analysis of Air Filters – A US EPA Method io-3.3’ webinar, on ResearchGate. We will explain the capabilities of XRF analysis for the elemental analysis of aerosols collected on air filters. on 9th December 2020.