Characterizing Combustion and Biogenic Particulate Matter Present in the Indoor Environment

EPA Grant Number: FP917460
Title: Characterizing Combustion and Biogenic Particulate Matter Present in the Indoor Environment
Investigators: Gomez, Odessa M
Institution: University of Colorado at Boulder
EPA Project Officer: Michaud, Jayne
Project Period: August 1, 2012 through July 31, 2015
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Environmental Engineering/Air Quality Monitoring


Currently, there are no standards in place for black carbon (elemental carbon from combustion aerosols) or bioaerosols in the United States; further investigation into their sources, distribution and composite potential for negative health risks is needed. By examining the fundamental toxicological activity of these distinct indoor air pollutants, this research will provide a critical link between measured air pollutants and reported health outcomes identified by epidemiology studies. Concomitant with quantifying and characterizing indoor combustion and biological aerosols, this work will utilize mammalian cells to report rapidly the genotoxic and cytotoxic activity of combustion and biogenic particles recovered from indoor air.


Indoor and outdoor air sampling will be conducted in disadvantaged and developing communities situated near heavily industrialized areas or that use solid fuel (coal or biomass) as a means for heating and cooking. Particulate matter 10 and 2.5 microns and smaller (PM10 and PM2.5) will be collected and analyzed for mass, organic and elemental carbon composition, as well as biopolymer content to establish the contribution of various sources, including biological and combustion, to the overall indoor aerosol load. Aerosols also will be analyzed for toxicological activity using a high-sensitivity, high-throughput single platform flow cytometry analysis, which simultaneously elucidates the potential of inflammation, cytotoxicity and genotoxicity as judged by biomarker induction and cell cycle analysis in human macrophages and lung cell lines.

Expected Results:

This work will develop and apply methods to better characterize indoor air pollution using a robust perspective that considers primary biological content and toxicological activity that will contribute to faster and less invasive methods for monitoring indoor air quality and its potential impact on public health and the environment. In households using solid fuel (coal or biomass) for cooking and heating and/or those situated near industrialized or high transit areas, there is expected to be elevated levels of airborne particulate matter indoors, including elemental carbon and bioaerosols in combinations that induce significant toxicological responses. Households with water damage, pets or overcrowding should have higher biopolymer loads (proteins, carbohydrates and lipids), much of which will present toxicological signatures different than their combustion aerosol counterparts. Aerosol samples from households with elevated bioaerosol or combustion loads likely will exhibit a higher toxicological response than those with lesser loads. Additionally, thresholds will emerge where mixtures of combustion aerosols and biopolymers will present a synergistic toxicity beyond that of either component alone.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

Biological and combustion aspects of indoor air quality often are overlooked in the regulatory sector, yet have serious environmental and public health implications, particularly in those communities that disproportionately are affected. Broadening the range of particulate matter that is routinely monitored to include primary biopolymers and toxicological activity and aerosol interactions will strengthen the knowledge base for making environmentally and economically sound policy decisions while striving to protect the human and environmental health of communities. This work will engage a broad spectrum of community members in a citizen science campaign to increase public awareness and promote a better understanding of the dangers of indoor air pollution.

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2013
  • 2014
  • Final