An overview of methods of fine and ultrafine particle collection for physicochemical characterisation and toxicity assessments

Prashant Kumar, Gopinath Kalaiarasan, Alexandra E. Porter, Alessandra Pinna, Michał M. Kłosowski, Philip Demokritou, Kian Fan Chung, Christopher Pain, D. K. Arvind, Rossella Arcucci, Ian M. Adcock, Claire Dilliway

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Particulate matter (PM) is a crucial health risk factor for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. The smaller size fractions, ≤2.5 μm (PM2.5; fine particles) and ≤0.1 μm (PM0.1; ultrafine particles), show the highest bioactivity but acquiring sufficient mass for in vitro and in vivo toxicological studies is challenging. We review the suitability of available instrumentation to collect the PM mass required for these assessments. Five different microenvironments representing the diverse exposure conditions in urban environments are considered in order to establish the typical PM concentrations present. The highest concentrations of PM2.5 and PM0.1 were found near traffic (i.e. roadsides and traffic intersections), followed by indoor environments, parks and behind roadside vegetation. We identify key factors to consider when selecting sampling instrumentation. These include PM concentration on-site (low concentrations increase sampling time), nature of sampling sites (e.g. indoors; noise and space will be an issue), equipment handling and power supply. Physicochemical characterisation requires micro- to milli-gram quantities of PM and it may increase according to the processing methods (e.g. digestion or sonication). Toxicological assessments of PM involve numerous mechanisms (e.g. inflammatory processes and oxidative stress) requiring significant amounts of PM to obtain accurate results. Optimising air sampling techniques are therefore important for the appropriate collection medium/filter which have innate physical properties and the potential to interact with samples. An evaluation of methods and instrumentation used for airborne virus collection concludes that samplers operating cyclone sampling techniques (using centrifugal forces) are effective in collecting airborne viruses. We highlight that predictive modelling can help to identify pollution hotspots in an urban environment for the efficient collection of PM mass. This review provides guidance to prepare and plan efficient sampling campaigns to collect sufficient PM mass for various purposes in a reasonable timeframe.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number143553
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Feb 20 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


  • Artificial intelligence
  • Mass collection
  • Particulate matter
  • Physicochemical characteristics
  • Toxicological assessments
  • Ultrafine particles


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