Novel air monitoring approach could ease suffering for allergy sufferers

Date released: Feb 04 2013

The EPA has published major new research completed by Professor John Sodeau and his research team at the Centre for Research Atmospheric Chemistry (CRAC) in University College Cork (UCC).  The team used state of the art air quality instrumentation to detect and quantify pollen, fungal spores and bacteria that are all components of the air we breathe and are known as bio-aerosols. 

Commenting on the release of the research report Dara Lynott EPA Director said,

“The environment and health are intrinsically linked and this innovative research project shows how state of the art instrumentation can be used to help protect both.  The novel application of technology could help people who suffer from respiratory issues to avoid problems by knowing what is in the air and thereby minimizing airborne infections.”

Dr. David Healy, lead researcher and author on the BioCheA project alongside EPA Doctoral student David O’Connor found that there were more bioaerosols in the air monitored at Killarney National Park than in urban and industrial environments during the summer. While a higher number of bio-aerosol particles would be expected in a rural setting, the research team field tested technology that allowed their detection and quantification in near real-time. Recent research findings also indicate that bioaerosols may have a more important role than previously thought in influencing climate and global hydrological cycles. Therefore this method of monitoring could allow agencies to warn people who are susceptible to respiratory disease and inform responses. 

Key elements of the report include;

  • Ireland currently makes no pollen count measurements of its own but this real-time approach could make the task considerably easier. 
  • The instrumentation used in this research to detect bio-aerosols (such as pollen, fungal spores and hyphal fragments) can be employed routinely and reliably in the laboratory and field.
  • In terms of the different types of spores in the air, the field results confirm the large range of types expected to be found in the air in North-West Europe during the sample time periods.
  • The approach to bioaerosol measurement coupled with the novel methods of data analysis could be employed in a number of different settings both outdoors (e.g. compost/waste facilities) and indoors (e.g. hospitals).

Professor John Sodeau, University College Cork (UCC), principal investigator on the project said,

“Many airborne biological particles are known to impact adversely on our health. Pollen, fungal spores and certain bacteria are often culprits in symptoms presenting in persons sensitive to hay fever or respiratory diseases including asthma. Ireland currently makes no pollen count measurements of its own but our near real-time approach could make this task considerably easier. ” 

This research was conducted in the Centre for Research Atmospheric Chemistry (CRAC) in University College Cork and was funded by the EPA’s Climate Change Research Programme. The full report, A new approach to Bioaerosol Monitoring in Ireland, is now available on the EPA website.

ENDS


Notes to Editor:

Contact details for Principal Investigator

Professor John Sodeau
j.sodeau@ucc.ie
021-4902680

 
Key points:

  • Bioaerosols OR Primary Biological Aerosol Particles (PBAPs) are fragments of biological material emitted or suspended directly from the biosphere to the atmosphere. PBAPs represent a significant fraction of the total aerosol burden and the different types can include viruses (0.01–0.3 μm), bacteria (0.1–10 μm), fungal and fern spores (1–30 μm), plant pollen (5–100 μm) and fragments of animal or plant matter.
  • This research project exploits a recently developed spectroscopic technique, (Waveband Integrated Bioaerosol Sensor model no. 4 (WIBS-4), which was designed to detect, characterise and quantify airborne biological particulate matter.
  • The on-line WIBS-4 approach to monitoring PBAPs on a scale close to “real-time” proved valid in all environmental settings investigated.
  • Combining the WIBS-4 spectroscopic technique with the traditional off-line SporeWatch impact collection/optical microscopy technique proved to be a very powerful combination for bioaerosol identification and quantification.
  • In terms of air-spora, the field results confirm the large range of taxa expected to be found in the air in North-West Europe during the sample time periods.

Findings/Recommendations:

  • The WIBS-4 approach to detect PBAP (such as pollen, fungal spores and hyphal fragments) can be employed routinely and reliably in the laboratory and field. Both real-time and high time-resolution data can be obtained, although appropriate size calibrations should be performed and instrumental gain-settings should be carefully chosen for optimum performance.
  • Fungal spores can be readily distinguished from pollen and non-bioaerosols (i.e. chemicals) using the WIBS-4 data matrices that are obtainable.
  • Releases of fungal spores can be related to meteorological data e.g. % RH with great precision using WIBS-4
  • Good agreement between the multi-wavelength, WIBS-4 data and a laser-based, commercially available, device termed the UV-APS was found.
  • The WIBS-4 approach to bioaerosol measurement coupled with the novel methods of data analysis developed at UCC in this project could be employed in a number of different settings both outdoors (e.g. compost/waste facilities) and indoors (e.g. hospitals).
  • Research in the Netherlands has found a strong association between day-to-day variations in pollen count with death due to COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) (Brunekreef et al.2000).

Other EPA research related to this topic:

Studies of the Chemical Composition and Toxicity of Airborne Fine Particles in Cork’s Mid-Harbour

Composition and Sources of Particulate Air Pollution in a Port Environment, Cork, Ireland