Size-segregated aerosol in a hot-spot pollution urban area: Chemical composition and three-way source apportionment

Environ Pollut. 2017 Dec;231(Pt 1):601-611. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2017.08.040. Epub 2017 Aug 29.


In this work, a comprehensive characterisation and source apportionment of size-segregated aerosol collected using a multistage cascade impactor was performed. The samples were collected during wintertime in Milan (Italy), which is located in the Po Valley, one of the main pollution hot-spot areas in Europe. For every sampling, size-segregated mass concentration, elemental and ionic composition, and levoglucosan concentration were determined. Size-segregated data were inverted using the program MICRON to identify and quantify modal contributions of all the measured components. The detailed chemical characterisation allowed the application of a three-way (3-D) receptor model (implemented using Multilinear Engine) for size-segregated source apportionment and chemical profiles identification. It is noteworthy that - as far as we know - this is the first time that three-way source apportionment is attempted using data of aerosol collected by traditional cascade impactors. Seven factors were identified: wood burning, industry, resuspended dust, regional aerosol, construction works, traffic 1, and traffic 2. Further insights into size-segregated factor profiles suggested that the traffic 1 factor can be associated to diesel vehicles and traffic 2 to gasoline vehicles. The regional aerosol factor resulted to be the main contributor (nearly 50%) to the droplet mode (accumulation sub-mode with modal diameter in the range 0.5-1 μm), whereas the overall contribution from the two factors related to traffic was the most important one in the other size modes (34-41%). The results showed that applying a 3-D receptor model to size-segregated samples allows identifying factors of local and regional origin while receptor modelling on integrated PM fractions usually singles out factors characterised by primary (e.g. industry, traffic, soil dust) and secondary (e.g. ammonium sulphate and nitrate) origin. Furthermore, the results suggested that the information on size-segregated chemical composition in different size classes was exploited by the model to relate primary emissions to rapidly-formed secondary compounds.

Keywords: Aerosol size distribution; Diesel vehicles; Gasoline vehicles; Multistage cascade impactor; Size-segregated chemical composition; Three-way source apportionment.

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols / analysis*
  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Dust / analysis
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Environmental Pollution
  • Gasoline
  • Italy
  • Nitrates
  • Particle Size
  • Particulate Matter / analysis*
  • Wood / chemistry


  • Aerosols
  • Air Pollutants
  • Dust
  • Gasoline
  • Nitrates
  • Particulate Matter