• Malaysia Installs Air Pollution Early Warning System Using Gas Chromatography


Malaysia Installs Air Pollution Early Warning System Using Gas Chromatography

Mar 14 2020

Pasir Gudang, has recently become the first city in Malaysia to install an air quality monitoring system that can detect hazardous air pollutants. Air pollution and quality is a major concern of many governments and also the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO suggests that there are almost 7 million premature deaths - one in eight total global deaths each year - attributable to outdoor air pollution. The system installed in Malaysia is based on gas chromatography with both flame ionisation detectors and mass spectrometry. Let’s take a look at how gas chromatography detects pollutants and the problem of air pollution.

A problem breathing

Ambient air pollution is a major cause of premature deaths worldwide - but particularly in large cities and industrial areas. In a survey, the WHO reported that of over 4300 cities surveyed globally, only 20% of the urban population lived in areas that complied with current WHO air quality guidelines. In many cities the levels of pollution were between 4 and 15 times the guideline levels.

There are many different pollutants that can cause everything from irritation through breathing problems to an early death. The vast majority of the early deaths are due to heart disease and stroke brought on by outdoor air pollutants. The pollutants include ground level ozone, nitrogen oxides and particulates such as PM2.5 and PM10 that can be transported to the lungs affecting how effectively they can work at transporting oxygen from our lungs into the bloodstream where it is needed.

Using chromatography to monitor air quality

Chromatography is an ideal tool to analyse air pollutants. It analyses the constituents of a mix by separating the mix into its constituent parts and feeding the parts into a detector system. The advantages of gas chromatography in analysing air pollutants is that the system can be tuned to analyse specific compounds.

Chromatography works by a mobile phase flowing over a stationary phase. The mobile phase carries the sample and interactions between the sample components and the stationary phase cause the sample to separate into its constituents. By fine tuning the stationary phase - usually a silica sorbent - and the liquid phase - a gas - gas chrpomatography can analyse for a wide range of air pollutants reliably and accurately. Method development is discussed in the article, The use of Mobile Phase pH as a Method Development Tool.

Malaysian air measurements

The Malaysian city of Pasir Gudang is an industrial port city located on the southern tip of the Malay peninsula. The city has installed two gas chromatography-mass spectrometry units to monitor volatile organic compounds in the air. Toxic gases are detected using gas chromatography systems with flame ionisation detectors (GC-FID). The system automatically alerts the authorities if the air quality is reduced in any particular area. The government is also making the readings available to the public. Will the UK government be so transparent in its failures to meet air quality levels?

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