Team:Ionis Paris/Air pollution

Air Pollution & V.O.Cs

State of the Art

The iGEM IONIS 2016 team was created shortly after the COP21 conference that took place in Paris, France, in 2015. In the context of environmental measures to prevent further environment pollution and public health impact, we tried to conduct a survey about air pollution and its whereabouts.

Air pollution is characterized by the presence of gas and particles in the outside air with harmful impact on human health and/or on the environment. Those pollutants come from natural phenomena (volcanic eruption, organic matter decomposition, forest fire) as well as human activity (industry, transport, farming and residential heating)[1].

It is known that pollution has harmful effects on human health. According to the world health organization (WHO), 7 million premature deaths are due to atmospheric pollution, which equals to one eighth of the world annual deaths. The cost of those premature deaths in the WHO countries is $ 1.431 trillion per year.

In France, there are 3.5 million asthmatic people, 50 000 people suffering from serious respiratory deficiency, 150 000 deaths of patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases caused by air pollution [1]. In addition of public health issues, those pollutants can have a harmful effect on the environment as they acidify waters and soils and decrease vegetal growth. Those effects trigger a decline in agricultural yield and alter aquatic ecosystems.

Atmospheric pollution is an accumulation of complex phenomena. To be understood as a whole, local and regional emissions, meteorological conditions, transport as well as pollutant transformation must be considered [3].

Despite the fact that air pollution hardly contains over 2% VOCs, the impact of those pollutants on health and environment is major. Volatile organic compounds can be defined as an organic chemical with a high vapour pressure (over 0.01 kPa). Those primary pollutants originate from fuel evaporation, car traffic, industrial processes, heating system in residential area, domestic use of solvent but also from vegetation. They have a role in secondary particle formation and ozone formation.

La Paillasse has put to our use laboratory material that are necessary for microbiology and molecular biology. The team can use freely hoods, centrifuges, and consumables to work on its project. This way of doing fits the DIY (Do It Yourself) spirit of the biohack spaces, and it allows us to manipulate with machines that we couldn’t afford otherwise.

VOCs are a preoccupation to the major actors of the energy field such as Total, Shell or Bouygues as well as governments and public institutions. They are leaders in research on pollution and are producing data that is essential for a better comprehension of how pollutants can impact ecosystems and their interactions with our society, being agriculture, fuel production, or industrial development.

VOCs can be sorted into three categories:

  • • BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylene) or mono cyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (MAH)

  • • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)

  • • Aldehydes (acetaldehyde and formaldehyde)

VOCs have a major impact on health and environment. The most noxious VOC compound is benzene, which was classified as a carcinogenic compound (group 1) by the CIRC in 1987. It causes serious hematologic damages: toxicity of lymphocytes consequent to intermediate or high exposure, decrease in blood cells, aplastic anemia (decrease in red blood cell production due to decline in white blood cells and platelets) and even leukemia if the benzene and its derivatives (such as toluene and xylene) exposure is chronic.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are toxic, persistent organic pollutant because of four features:

  • • Environment persistence

  • • Living tissues bioaccumulation (bioaccumulation in living tissues)

  • • Spreading on long distance

  • • Population exposure to these pollutants

Although their effect on human health are only partially known, scientists have demonstrated some of their effects:

  • • Systemic effect (hepatic, hematologic, immunologic)

  • • Reproductive toxicity

  • • Genetic toxicity

  • • Carcinogen

Aldehydes are toxics for human health: formaldehyde is classified as a carcinogen by the CIRC and aldehyde is classified as a likely carcinogen. Therefore, to protect populations and the environment against harmful pollutants, regulations were set up and air quality is supervised by European directives.

Pollutant diversity in air and water is so important that no single means of detection can exist. Various means of detection and quantification have to be adapted to the pollutants as well as the targeted environment in which the pollutant is present. Many methods exist and have been classified into two main groups: Active and Passive detectors. Those technologies are then subdivided according to their analysis type: Physical, Chemical or Biological [4][5][6][7].

References (links are provided when available):

  1. Laurence Monnoyer-Smith, Anne Bottin, Commissariat Général au développement durable, "Bilan de la qualité de l’air en France en 2014 et principales tendances observées sur la période 2000-2014", September 2015.

  2. "Bilan de la qualité de l’air en France en 2012 et principales tendances observées sur la période 2000-2012", Energy and climate executive management, 2012.

  3. AIRPARIF, association for air quality monitoring in Ile de France (France).

  4. Active sampling measurement (norme NF EN 14662-1), November 2005.

  5. Active sampling measurement (norme NF EN14662-4), November 2005.

  6. Ministère de l'écologie, du développement durable, des transports et du logement (MEDDTL), "Stratégie de mesure des niveaux de concentration en benzène, toluène, éthylbenzène et xylènes dans l’air ambiant autour d’installations classées", October 2010.

  7. Jarque S., Bittner M., Blaha L., Hilscherova K., "Yeast Biosensors for Detection of Environmental Pollutants: Current State and Limitations." Trends in Biotechnology, 2016.