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Modelling the atmospheric fate and seasonality of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in the UK.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


<mark>Journal publication date</mark>07/2004
Number of pages14
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This paper presents the results from an exercise in atmospheric contaminant fate modelling, which had three main objectives: (1) to investigate the balance between estimated national atmospheric emissions of six selected PAHs and observed ambient measurements for the UK, as a means of testing the current emission estimates; (2) to investigate the potential influence of seasonally dependent environmental fate processes on the observed seasonality of air concentrations; and (3) after undertaking the first two objectives, to make inferences about the likely magnitude of seasonal differences in sources. When addressing objective 1 with annually averaged emissions data, it appeared that the UK PAH atmospheric emissions inventory was reasonably reliable for fluorene, fluoranthene, pyrene, benzo[a]pyrene and benzo[ghi]perylene––but not so for phenanthrene. However, more detailed analysis of the seasonality in environmental processes which may influence ambient levels, showed that the directions and/or magnitudes of the predicted seasonality did not coincide with field observations. This indicates either that our understanding of the environmental fate and behaviour of PAHs is still limited, and/or that there are uncertainties in the emissions inventories. It is suggested that better quantification of PAH sources is needed. For 3- and 4-ringed compounds, this should focus on those sources which increase with temperature, such as volatilisation from soil, water, vegetation and urban surfaces, and possible microbially-mediated formation mechanisms. The study also suggests that the contributions of inefficient, diffusive combustion processes (e.g. domestic coal/wood burning) may be underestimated as a source of the toxicologically significant higher molecular weight species in the winter. It is concluded that many signatory countries to the UNECE POPs protocol (which requires them to reduce national PAH emissions to 1990 levels) will experience difficulties in demonstrating compliance, because source inventories for 1990 and contemporary situations are clearly subject to major uncertainties.