Continuous, intermittent and passive sampling of airborne VOCs


Long sampling periods are often advantageous or required for measuring air quality and characterizing exposures. However, sampling periods exceeding 8 to 24 h using thermally desorbable adsorbent tube (TDT) samplers for the measurement of airborne volatile organic compounds (VOCs) face several challenges, including maintaining stable and low flow rates, and avoiding breakthrough of the adsorbent. These problems may be avoided using intermittent sampling; however, the literature contains few if any reports that have evaluated this technique in environmental, occupational or other applications. The purpose of this study is to evaluate continuous, intermittent and passive sampling methods using both laboratory and real-world tests. Laboratory tests compared continuous and intermittent (active) samplers in a controlled dynamic test gas generation system. Field tests used side-by-side active and passive samplers in an office, home workshop and four smokers' homes. All samples were analyzed for a wide range of VOCs by GC-MS. In most instances, intermittent sampling yielded better reproducibility (duplicate precision of 10 ± 6%) than continuous low-flow sampling (18 ± 5%), in part due to difficulty maintaining low flows. Concentrations obtained using intermittent sampling agreed with those for continuous sampling, with downward biases resulting primarily from errors in flow rate measurements. In the field, more VOC species were detected using active rather than passive sampling. Passive measurements were 12% lower than continuous measurements, a difference attributed to declining uptake rates at higher concentrations over the 3 to 4 d sampling period. Overall, most measurements obtained using the three sampling methods agreed within 20% for a wide range of concentrations (0.1 to 230 μg m -3). Both passive and intermittent sampling approaches are suitable for long sampling periods, but intermittent sampling provides greater flexibility with respect to sampling period, and permits the use of multi-bed adsorbents that can capture a wider range of VOCs. © The Royal Society of Chemistry.

Publication Title

Journal of Environmental Monitoring