Bushfire smoke plume composition and toxicological assessment from the 2019–2020 Australian Black Summer
Air Quality, Atmosphere and Health
Many of the population centres in southeast Australia were swathed in bushfire smoke during the 2019–2020 austral summer. Bushfires burning during what is now known as the Black Summer was historically large and severe, and the fire season historically long. The chemical composition in the gas and aerosol phase of aged plumes measured near Wollongong, NSW in early 2020 is reported in this work. Enhancement ratios to carbon monoxide are presented for thirteen species (acetaldehyde, acetone, acetonitrile, black carbon aerosol, benzene, methane, methacrolein + methyl vinyl ketone, methyl ethyl ketone, methanol, ammonium ion PM1 fraction, nitrate ion PM1 fraction, organic PM1 fraction and PM2.5). Observed plume composition is comparable to that measured in fresh smoke from Australian fires reported in the literature. Enhancements of biogenic volatile organic compounds such as isoprene (smoke-effected period mean 1 ppb, maximum 6 ppb) were observed along with elevated concentrations of particulate variables. Enhancement ratios reported here can be used in plume modelling of landscape-scale fires and assist in concentration estimates of infrequently measured atmospheric pollutants. The relative toxicological contribution of species present in the plumes was determined for plume exposure at the measurement site and for concentrated plumes at a population centre case study. Similar results were apparent at both locations. Contributions to the toxicological loading were dominated by respirable particles (~ 52–63% total contribution), formaldehyde (~ 30–39% total contribution) and acrolein. This is a reminder to consider the toxicological contributions in the gas phase when considering health impacts of population exposure to bushfire smoke.
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National Science Foundation