Some of the same chemical reactions that occur in the atmosphere as a result of smog and ozone are actually taking place in your house while you are cleaning. A researcher in Drexel’s College of Engineering is taking a closer look at these reactions, which involve an organic compound -called limonene- that provides the pleasant smell of cleaning products and air fresheners. His research will help to determine what byproducts these sweet-smelling compounds are adding to the air while we are using them to remove germs and odors.
Secondary organic aerosols (SOAs) are microscopic particles created when ozone reacts with volatile organic gases such as limonene –the chemical name for the smell of oranges- or its cousin α-pinene, which is part of the smell of pine trees. Outdoors, this reaction happens all the time. It drives the formation of much of the atmospheric organic aerosol present in our environment. And in, population-dense urban areas -where enough suspended particles can be amassed- it contributes to the formation of the visible haze called smog. While a large amount of aerosols that exist in the Earth’s atmosphere are naturally occurring – created by processes such as mechanical suspension by wind or sea spray – much is produced as a result of industrialization. And while researchers are still striving to fully understand the health and environmental impact of increased levels of secondary organic aerosols in the atmosphere, studies have linked exposure to outdoor aerosols generally to morbidity and mortality outcomes.
The first step toward understanding the health implications is finding how many of these microscopic SOA particles are created when household cleaning products and air fresheners react with ozone indoors.