Chemical characterization and toxicity of particulate matter emissions from roadside trash combustion in urban India


Roadside trash burning is largely unexamined as a factor that influences air quality, radiative forcing, and human health even though it is ubiquitously practiced across many global regions, including throughout India. The objective of this research is to examine characteristics and redox activity of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) associated with roadside trash burning in Bangalore, India. Emissions from smoldering and flaming roadside trash piles (n = 24) were analyzed for organic and elemental carbon (OC/EC), brown carbon (BrC), and toxicity (i.e. redox activity, measured via the dithiothreitol “DTT” assay). A subset of samples (n = 8) were further assessed for toxicity by a cellular assay (macrophage assay) and also analyzed for trace organic compounds. Results show high variability of chemical composition and toxicity between trash-burning emissions, and characteristic differences from ambient samples. OC/EC ratios for trash-burning emissions range from 0.8 to 1500, while ambient OC/EC ratios were observed at 5.4 ± 1.8. Trace organic compound analyses indicate that emissions from trash-burning piles were frequently composed of aromatic di-acids (likely from burning plastics) and levoglucosan (an indicator of biomass burning), while the ambient sample showed high response from alkanes indicating notable representation from vehicular exhaust. Volume-normalized DTT results (i.e., redox activity normalized by the volume of air pulled through the filter during sampling) were, unsurprisingly, extremely elevated in all trash-burning samples. Interestingly, DTT results suggest that on a per-mass basis, fresh trash-burning emissions are an order of magnitude less redox-active than ambient air (13.4 ± 14.8 pmol/min/μgOC for trash burning; 107 ± 25 pmol/min/μgOC for ambient). However, overall results indicate that near trash-burning sources, exposure to redox-active PM can be extremely high.