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Chemosphere. 2018 Mar;194:139-146. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2017.11.173. Epub 2017 Dec 1.

On-line quantification and human health risk assessment of organic by-products from the removal of toluene in air using non-thermal plasma.

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School of Environmental and Chemical Engineering, Shanghai University, Shanghai, 200444, China.
School of Instrument Science and Opto-electronics Engineering, Hefei University of Technology, Hefei, 230009, China.
Kunshan Hexin Mass Spectrometry Technology Co., Ltd., Kunshan, 215311, China.
School of Environmental and Chemical Engineering, Shanghai University, Shanghai, 200444, China. Electronic address:


Harmful organic by-products, produced during the removal of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air by treatment with non-thermal plasma (NTP), hinder the practical applications of NTP. An on-line quantification and risk assessment method for the organic by-products produced by the NTP removal of toluene from the air has been developed. Formaldehyde, methanol, ketene, acetaldehyde, formic acid, acetone, acetic acid, benzene, benzaldehyde, and benzoic acid were determined to be the main organic by-products by proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry (PTR-MS), a powerful technique for real-time and on-line measurements of trace levels of VOCs, and a health-related index (HRI) was introduced to assess the health risk of these organic by-products. The discharge power (P) is a key factor affecting the formation of the organic by-products and their HRI values. Higher P leads to a higher removal efficiency (η) and lower HRI. However, higher P also means higher cost and greater production of discharge by-products, such as NOx and O3, which are also very dangerous to the environment and human health. In practical applications P, HRI, and η must be balanced, and sometimes the risks posed by the organic by-products are even greater than those of the removed compounds. Our mechanistic study reveals that acetone is a crucial intermediate for the removal of toluene by NTP, and we found that toluene molecules first fragment into acetone molecules, followed by other by-products. These observations will guide the study of the mechanism of aromatic molecule dissociation in plasma.


Dielectric barrier discharge; Organic by-products; PTR-MS; Risk assessment; Toluene

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