Emissions from motor vehicles, industrial processes, power generation, the household combustion of solid fuel and other sources pollute the ambient air across the globe. The precise chemical and physical features of ambient air pollution, which comprise a myriad of individual chemical constituents, vary around the world due to differences in the sources of pollution, climate and meteorology, but the mixtures of ambient air pollution invariably contain specific chemicals known to be carcinogenic to humans (IARC SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATION NO. 161).

Micropollutants represent a class of these compounds.

As concern for the organic ones, dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are persistent organic pollutants (POPs) (Stockholm Convention 2001) and together with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), whose presence is ubiquitarian in ambient air, are of recognized health concern (IARC1987,1997;2016 WHO2000). POPs include a group of pollutants that are semi-volatile, persistent in the environment, bio-accumulative and toxic for humans and wildlife. POPs are ubiquitous environmental pollutants. PCDD/Fs are formed as unwanted by-products in many industrial and combustion processes. They are, e.g. unwanted products of processes such as bleaching of paper (with chlorine-based additives), melting, incineration and during the production of some herbicides and pesticides. In terms of the release of dioxins into the environment, incineration of uncontrolled waste (solid waste and hospital wastes from hospitals) is often considered one of the main guilty, since dioxins are formed mainly during incomplete combustion processes. Atmospheric transport is a primary pathway for the transfer of these pollutants to terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems via deposition.

Benzo (a) pyrene (BaP) belongs to the class of compounds defined as Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), which originate mainly from incomplete combustion in industrial plants, in motor vehicles, but especially in residential heating systems, powered especially from biomasses. PAHs are largely absorbed on the carbon particles emitted by the same emission sources. A considerable number of PAHs have carcinogenic activity.

Mercury is a neurological toxin that accumulates in the food chain. Airborne mercury gets deposited over land and water. Water runoff from land brings more into lakes. As big fish eat smaller fish, mercury concentrations increase. Humans eat the bigger fish with the higher mercury levels.

The combustion of solid fuels is one of the main sources of environment contamination with mercury compounds. As heat is extracted from the combustion process, mercury can exist within the flue gas as elemental mercury, oxidized mercury (compound form, often assumed to be mercuric chloride) and particulate-bound mercury. Unlike oxidized mercury, Hg0 is insoluble in water and may be transported for long distances. In the form of Hg2+ mercury may be bound to airborne particles and can be introduced into the body by inhalation. Hg2+ may also reach the water reservoirs with rain.

Inorganic micropollutants such as metals are often present in air as a result of emissions from different types of industrial activities.

The emissions of metals such as As, Ni and Pb derive largely from combustion in industry and production processes, in addition to road transport for Pb and the production of energy for Ni.

Air pollution remains a major environmental health challenge in both developed and developing countries. Epidemiological studies have uncovered clear relationships of poor air quality from exposure to both indoor and outdoor sources with negative health outcomes, including mortality by cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and other adverse effects. Because of the complex and interdisciplinary nature of air quality-health relationships, there remain many open questions should be investigated to improve the comprehension in the direction of therapies and to provide a basis for the targeted and optimal control of air pollution emissions.

We are interested in designing and implementing innovative instruments and new solutions with the aim to contribute to:

  • multidisciplinary and integrated researches on health impacts, including laboratory experiments and field measurements to advance mechanistic, molecular and toxicological-level understanding of health impacts by air pollutants (gas and aerosol phase).
  • improving the identification and quantification of atmospheric pollutants, as well as their time and spatial distribution, essential for conducting epidemiological studies and validating models.
  • investigating the role of specific pollutants, including “not regulated” or new pollutants, as well as sources on adverse health impacts.
  • consolidation and optimization of unified methodological and experimental approaches to assess air quality health effect, including best proxy indicators to measure (i.e. oxidative potential).

Nanoparticles (NP), particles that are roughly 1-100 nm in size, can be directly emitted into the atmosphere from primary sources or be formed in the atmosphere through nucleation of gas-phase species. NP can be divided into natural and anthropogenic particles and anthropogenic NP can be either inadvertently formed as a by-product, mostly during combustion, or produced intentionally due to their particular characteristics, in the latter case referred to as engineered or manufactured NP.
Primary emitted anthropogenic NP have attracted a lot of attention in the last years because of the increasing production of engineered NP in nanotechnology and nanoindustry. Today, nanoscale materials find use in a variety of different areas such as electronic, biomedical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, energy, environmental, catalytic and material applications.
Because of the forecasted huge increase in the manufacture and use of engineered nanomaterials in industrial and household applications, human and environmental exposure to NP is likely increasing and the concern about the possibility of adverse health effects of NP has become a top priority in governments, the private sector and the public all over the world.

Several research studies aim to better understand occurrence, fate and effects of nanoparticles in the environment, both manufactured and unintentionally produced. Compared to conventional or other emerging pollutants, nanoparticles pose some new challenges for scientists. Whereas it is already obvious that particle size plays an important role with respect to toxicity, less is known how size affects the behavior and reactivity of nanoparticles. Moreover, the surface of NP can be modified by environmental factors (light, oxidants, coatings or microorganisms) thus affecting the release of NP into the environment, their properties and behavior. These are important processes, which have to be further investigated also with the development of appropriate analytical instruments.

We are interested to contribute in the field of nanoparticle studies by proposing, designing and implementing innovative technical solutions, improved systems and new applications for:

  • NP monitoring and sampling
  • NP source emission characterization
  • NP concentration levels and fate
  • NP health effects and personal exposure assessment

Bioaerosols are airborne particles that originate from biological sources including animals, plants, pollens, fungi, bacteria, protozoa and viruses and fragments or single molecules (allergens, endotoxin, mycotoxins…) derived from each of these sources.
Bioaerosol monitoring and analysis is a rapidly emerging area of concern due to the relevant role bioaerosol may have on human health, atmospheric and ecological impacts. Bioaerosol is a multidisciplinary research topic, involving many different fields such as allergobiology, microbiology, mechanical engineering, atmospheric chemistry, climate change, medical science, epidemiology, immunological science, biochemistry, physics, industry, nanotechnologies. Most recently, researchers from different fields start to bridge together for solving bioaerosol challenges and addressing key scientific problems, e.g. bioaerosol sampling and analysis, bioaerosol spread, bioaerosol transformation and atmospheric reactivity, bioaerosol exposure in indoor and working environments…

Bioaerosols are ubiquitous in the air and can be isolated from indoor, outdoor and occupational environments using a variety of methods. In general, bioaerosol sampling is the first step toward characterizing bioaerosol concentrations and its further analysis. There are still open challenges for bioaerosol sampling (i.e. loss of viability and identification property during the collection process, sampling efficiency…) and the sampling has to be adjusted accordingly for suitability for the analysis/characterization and for different purposes of the studies. Moreover, some interesting new solutions for real-time monitor of bioaerosol start to be demonstrated although now it is rather difficult if it is not impossible to achieve real-time monitor of airborne biological agents to the species level.

We are interested to tackle emerging and unresolved problems in the field of bioaerosol research by proposing, designing and implementing innovative technical solutions, improved systems and new applications for:

  • bioaerosol sampling and analysis instruments
  • bioaerosol source emission characterization and monitoring
  • bioaerosol concentration levels in indoor and outdoor environments
  • bioaerosol health effects and personal exposure assessment