Observations of Isocyanate, Amide, Nitrate, and Nitro Compounds From an Anthropogenic Biomass Burning Event Using a ToF‐CIMS

Michael Priestley, Michael Le Breton, Thomas J. Bannan, Kimberly E. Leather, Asan Bacak, Ernesto Reyes-Villegas, Frank De Vocht, Beth M.A. Shallcross, Toby Brazier, M. Anwar Khan, James Allan, Dudley E. Shallcross, Hugh Coe, Carl J. Percival*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
265 Downloads (Pure)


Anthropogenic biomass burning is poorly represented in models due to a lack of observational data but represents a significant source of short-lived toxic gases. Guy Fawkes Night (bonfire night) is a regular UK-wide event where open fires are lit and fireworks are set off on 5 November. Previous gas phase studies of bonfire night focus on persistent organic pollutants primarily using off-line techniques. Here the first simultaneous online gas phase measurements of several classes of compounds including isocyanates, amides, nitrates, and nitro-organics are made during bonfire night (2014) in Manchester, UK, using a time-of-flight chemical ionization mass spectrometer (ToF-CIMS) using iodide reagent ions. A shallow boundary layer and low wind speeds favor pollutant buildup with typical HCN, HNCO, and CH3NCO concentrations of tens of parts per thousand increasing by a factor of 13 to potentially harmful levels >1 ppb. Normalized excess mixing ratios relative to CO for a range of isocyanates and amides are reported for the first time. Using a HNCO:CO ratio of 0.1%, we distinguish emissions from flaming and smoldering combustion and report more accurate normalized excess mixing ratios for the distinct burning phases. While bonfire night is a highly polluting event, NO2 concentrations measured at this location are higher at other times, highlighting the importance of traffic as an NO2 emission source at this location. A risk communication methodology is used to equate enhancements in hourly averaged black carbon and NO2 concentrations caused by bonfire night as an equivalent of 26.1 passively smoked cigarettes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7687-7704
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number14
Early online date23 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2018


  • anthropogenic
  • biomass burning
  • hydrogen cyanide
  • bonfire night


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