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Physical and chemical properties of Airport emissions

Despite a growing understanding of air pollutants caused by human activities, there is still a lack of knowledge about emissions of air pollutants from airports. Given predictions of future growth in air traffic a significant increase in pollution levels from airports can be expected and should be addressed.
Physical and chemical properties of Airport emissions
The aim of the CHEERS (Chemical and Physical Properties and Source Apportionment of Airport Emissions in the context of European Air Quality Directives) project therefore was to investigate the impact of two major European airports upon local air quality. Researchers quantified the impacts due to aircraft, road traffic and other sources alongside those generated by large cities operating major airports.

A field study was conducted close to London’s Heathrow Airport, which is recognised as a major source of air pollution, and a location where EU air quality limits are currently exceeded. The study was also extended to Venice Airport, which is located in an area noted for poor air quality.

Researchers studied the contributions of different sources to particulate matter (PM) and analysed particle size distributions to understand atmospheric dispersion and processing of aircraft emissions. At the same time they carried out sampling of fine PM in the size fraction below 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) at the two sites.

Results showed that since the selected airports are located near large cities, their impact on air quality cannot be disregarded. Because of their siting it was difficult to differentiate between pollutants arising from airport operations and those from other potential sources in the area.

Concentrations of PM2.5 in Venice were 17 and 11 micrograms per cubic metre in summer and winter, respectively. Significant differences between summer and winter data were found for most analysed species. They included elemental and organic carbon, sodium (Na+), ammonium (NH4+), potassium (K+), chloride (Cl-), sulphate (SO42-), oxalate, odd- and even- n-alkanes and many elements (e.g., vanadium, iron, zinc, arsenic and cadmium).

Airport emissions at Heathrow showed a major influence upon nucleation particles, whereas in Venice the influence was primarily upon particles peaking at 70-80 nm. On the contrary, no large influence on black carbon, PM2.5 mass and its chemical composition was detected at either airport.

CHEERS will help in the design of air pollution mitigation strategies and have an impact beyond southern England and northern Italy, as air pollution problems associated with airports are a common phenomenon in the EU.

Related information


Air pollutants, airport emissions, CHEERS, Heathrow, Venice Airport, particulate materials, PM2.5, nucleation
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