An evaluation of mass absorption cross-section for optical carbon analysis on Teflon filter media

Black carbon (BC) or elemental carbon (EC) is a by-product of incomplete fuel combustion, and contributes adversely to human health, visibility, and climate impacts. Previous studies have examined nondestructive techniques for particle light attenuation measurements on Teflon® filters to estimate BC. The incorporation of an inline Magee Scientific OT21 transmissometer into the MTL AH-225 robotic weighing system provides the opportunity to perform optical transmission measurements on Teflon filters at the same time as the gravimetric mass measurement. In this study, we characterize the performance of the inline OT21, and apply it to determine the mass absorption cross-section (MAC) of PM2.5 BC across the United States. We analyzed 5393 archived Teflon® filters from the Chemical Speciation Network (CSN) collected during 2010–2011 and determined MAC by comparing light attenuation on Teflon® filters to corresponding thermal EC on quartz-fiber filters. Results demonstrated the importance of the initial transmission (I0) value used in light attenuation calculations. While light transmission varied greatly within filter lots, the average I0 of filter blanks during the sampling period provided an estimate for archived filters. For newly collected samples, it is recommended that filter-specific I0 measurements be made (i.e., same filter before sample collection). The estimated MAC ranged from 6.9 to 9.4 m2/g and varied by region and season across the United States, indicating that using a default value may lead to under- or overestimated BC concentrations. An analysis of the chemical composition of these samples indicated good correlation with EC for samples with higher EC content as a fraction of total PM2.5 mass, while the presence of light-scattering species such as crustal elements impacted the correlation affecting the MAC estimate. Overall, the method is demonstrated to be a quick, cost-effective approach to estimate BC from archived and newly sampled Teflon® filters by combining both gravimetric and BC measurements.

Implications: Robotic optical analysis is a valid, cost-effective means to obtain a vast amount of BC data from archived and current routine filters. A tailored mass absorption cross-section by region and season is necessary for a more representative estimate of BC. Initial light transmission measurements play an important role due to the variability in blank filter transmission. Combining gravimetric mass and BC analysis on a single Teflon® filter reduces costs for monitoring agencies and maximizes data collection.