Monday, July 23, 2012

Ethanol levels in the air over US cities on the rise

IT'S not enough to give you a boozy buzz, but levels of ethanol in the air are on the rise in the US.

Environmental legislation has boosted the amount of ethanol-containing fuel sold there - but while plant-derived ethanol is touted for its green credentials, it can oxidise in the atmosphere to form acetaldehyde, which can irritate the skin and cause nausea.

Joost de Gouw at the University of Colorado at Boulder analysed the air over Los Angeles in 2010 and compared it with findings from LA and other US cities in 2002. He found that ethanol levels have risen - but that acetaldehyde levels have actually dropped.

That drop is due to improved vehicle-emissions standards, says de Gouw: vehicles are emitting fewer of the other pollutants in fuel that can also turn into acetaldehyde in the air (Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1029/2012gl052109).

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