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Scientists Team Up with Kids and Community in Air Toxics Study

Interview with Munkh Baasandorj

Gaseous analyzers
Gaseous analyzers

The Utah of Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality (DAQ), Brigham Young University, and the Neil Armstrong Academy have partnered for a hazardous air pollutant (HAP) monitoring project in West Valley City. The study uses state-of-the-art instruments to measure gaseous and particulate HAPs in real-time.

What are hazardous air pollutants (HAPs)?

Hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), also known as air toxics, are substances that are known to cause cancer or other serious health effects. HAPs are emitted from a variety of sources, including industrial, residential, mobile, and natural sources. Common air toxics include benzene (gasoline), perchoroethylene (dry cleaning), and methylene chloride (solvent and paint strippers).

What is the focus of your study?

Our study is concentrated on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in gas and particulate phases and other HAPs such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. PAHs are formed from the incomplete burning of oil and gas, coal, and other organic substances. Formaldehyde and acetaldehyde are formed in the atmosphere and contribute to ozone formation during the summer months. Formaldehyde is also a common indoor air pollutant known to cause serious health problems. A specific focus of this study is diesel particulate matter, which is classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization (WHO).

How is your study different from other studies?

Our project provides real-time, temporally resolved measurements, meaning we are collecting samples continuously and getting readings in real time. With passive sampling, we look at the substances collected on a filter over a 24-hour period. With our study’s more active sampling, we get readings by the hour and the minute, improving accuracy and providing us with a richer dataset for analysis. Using our specialized instruments, we will be able to:

  • Determine the levels of specific types of gaseous and particulate HAPs in the air, particularly PAHs
  • Determine the organic aerosol composition during high PM2.5 episodes
  • Better characterize the sources of HAPs in the Salt Lake Valley

 How have you structured your study?

Proton Transfer Reaction-Mass Spectrometer
Proton Transfer Reaction-Mass Spectrometer

We are running our sampling campaigns during the winter and summer months. The winter study focuses on PAHs in gaseous and particulate phases, including diesel particulate matter. The summer study will focus on formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, gaseous carbonyls that form efficiently in the atmosphere during the summer.

Our instruments are based at West Valley’s Neil Armstrong Academy, an elementary school dedicated to science, technology, and math. This collaboration offers us unique outreach and educational opportunities with the students and the community.

What techniques and instruments will you use?

We are using many state-of-the-art techniques to measure gaseous volatile organic compounds (VOCs), fine particulate organics and related species. Two key instruments are a Proton-Transfer Reaction-Mass Spectrometer (PTR-MS) and an organic aerosol monitor (OAM). PTR-MS provides real-time measurements of a wide range of manmade, natural, and wood-burn related sources with a fast time response (by the minute) and high sensitivity, meaning it can detect toxics at lower levels. OAM provides hourly measurements of the organic components of fine particulate matter.

How will you use this information?

Ambient ion monitor
Ambient ion monitor

This study provides a high quality, fine-time resolution dataset of organics that can be used to determine the impacts of these species on air quality in Salt Lake Valley during the winter and summer months. Concurrent, real-time monitoring provides us with information about air toxics and their tracers in the gas and particulate phases. Tracers are unique markers that help us identify the source of the toxics so we know whether the pollutant is coming from traffic, wood-burning, or industrial activities. Co-located, simultaneous observations of these organic compounds and their tracers will help us explore the relationship between the gaseous and particulate HAPs and characterize their sources. Identifying the sources helps us develop effective control strategies to reduce emissions.

What are the expected outcomes from the study?

We anticipate a wide range of positive outcomes, some short-term, others long-term. They include:

  • Identification of HAPs in West Valley at levels above the health exposure threshold
  • Evaluation of the relative contribution of different sources, such as local industries, refineries, wood-burning, and vehicles, on HAPs levels in the air
  • Better understanding of the impacts of PAHs on air quality in the Salt Lake Valley
  • Better estimates of exposure risks to the urban population from HAPs
  • Improved community understanding of HAPs exposure risks and air quality issues
  • Improved community involvement and action to reduce toxic air emissions

We see the study as an important step in the reduction of HAPs emissions and human exposure to air toxics in the Salt Lake Valley, and an important opportunity to involve the community in both the study and the emission control strategies.

Utah Department of Environmental Quality scientists, along with researchers from Brigham Young University, will unveil an air toxic study to students at Neil Armstrong Academy, 5194 Highbury Parkway, West Valley City, on Tuesday, January 26, 2016, at 10 a.m.
Munkh Baasandorj

I joined DAQ as an environmental scientist in the winter of 2015. I have in-depth experience in research in atmospheric chemistry and air quality. I obtained my Ph.D. degree in atmospheric chemistry from Indiana University. In the past, I worked at Chemical Sciences Division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (CSD NOAA) in Boulder, CO and at the University of Minnesota (UMN), St. Paul, MN as a research scientist studying how interactions of biogenic and anthropogenic emissions impact air quality. My current research interests focus on hazardous air pollutants, volatile organic compounds and their impact on air quality, and secondary particle formation in Salt Lake Valley  I am coordinating two studies this winter: West Valley Air Toxics Study and Winter Particulate Study in Salt Lake Valley. I live with my son and husband and enjoy exploring the great outdoors along the Wasatch Front and skiing.

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