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Mobile Lab to Test Air Quality
November 3, 2014   
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Scientists from the National Center for Nuclear Research (NCBJ) in 安ierk near Warsaw have designed and constructed a mobile laboratory for testing air quality. One of only a few facilities of its kind in Poland, the lab will make it possible to quickly identify air pollution and alert the authorities when they need to take action to protect people’s health.

The lab is essentially an air-conditioned module equipped with state-of-the-art instruments capable of precisely analyzing air quality. These include modern analyzers, gravimetric dust collectors, and detectors of nitrogen, carbon and ozone oxides. Such instruments are commonly used by environmental protection inspectors throughout the country. The lab equipment will soon be expanded to include a weather station with a 10-meter mast to acquire data on weather conditions.

“Our laboratory will be one of a few facilities in the country capable of analyzing in detail fractions of particulate matter present in the air and of identifying particles as tiny as 20 nanometers in diameter, which means 2,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair,” said Jan Sernicki, Ph.D., head of the NCBJ Division of Interdisciplinary Applications of Physics and one of the designers of the mobile lab. “Since particulate matter in the air may be extremely dangerous to our health, the capability to promptly identify and analyze the particles is important.”

Particulate matter in the air is a mixture of organic and inorganic particles. It may also contain toxic substances such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (for example, benzo/a/pyrene), heavy metals, dioxins and furans. It is composed of particles less than 10 microns in diameter. Such particles may be deposited in the upper respiratory tract and lungs and impair breathing, bring about a cough or shortness of breath, or increase exposition to respiratory tract infections and diseases such as asthma, rhinitis and rhinoconjunctivitis. Particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter may also penetrate the blood system, giving rise to various heart diseases including hypertension, and lead to a heart attack or lung cancer.

Old coal-fired boilers and home furnaces—which are frequently poorly adjusted—are the single largest source of particulate matter emissions to the atmosphere. Traffic in large cities is also a significant source. The power, chemical, mining and metallurgy industries cause less pollution of this kind.

Air quality studies conducted in Poland’s central Mazovia region have shown that almost 45 percent of the region’s inhabitants are exposed to increased levels of PM10 (particles with a diameter not greater than 10 microns) for many days every year. According to the regional Environmental Protection Office, the permissible level of PM2.5 is exceeded in many test points throughout the region. Due to the sheer size of the Warsaw metropolitan area, air pollution in Poland’s capital is also significant.

The mobile lab is small (at just over 5.5 square meters in size), lightweight and compact. It can be easily towed by a car, which makes it possible to perform tests in various places within a short time.

Ma貪orzata Bogusz, M.Sc., from the NCBJ Division of Interdisciplinary Applications of Physics, said the mobile lab was created to conduct comprehensive air quality studies not just in the Mazovia region but wherever such analyses are needed. The lab “successfully combines the know-how and long-term experience of NCBJ experts with EU financial assistance from the European Regional Development Fund,” Bogusz added.
The NCBJ has for several years been conducting R&D work on more effective use of information available in the country to predict levels of particulate matter in the air. Such information is available in historic databases and is also acquired in real time. Moreover, groups of scientists are at work at the center in 安ierk carrying out simulations of the dispersion of various agents (including radioactive particulate matter) in the environment using Poland’s largest computer cluster (Centrum Informatyczne 安ierk).

The mobile lab for testing air quality has been developed and built as part of the “Development of Ionizing Radiation-Based Technologies” project at the NCBJ 安ierk.

The National Center for Nuclear Research (NCBJ) in 安ierk near Warsaw conducts pure and applied research studies in various fields of sub-atomic physics, including elementary particle physics, nuclear physics and hot plasma physics. The center is strongly involved in developing nuclear technologies and promoting practical applications of nuclear physics methods. Major market products manufactured at the center include radiopharmaceuticals and a range of particle accelerators for science, medicine and various industries.
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