On-line monitoring of benzene air concentrations while driving in traffic by means of isotopic dilution gas chromatography/mass spectrometry

E. Davoli, L. Cappellini, M. Moggi, S. Ferrari, R. Fanelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is no shortage of information about the average benzene concentrations in urban air, but there is very little about microenvironmental exposure, such as in-vehicle concentrations while driving in various traffic conditions, while refuelling, or while in a parking garage. The main reason for this lack of data is that no analytical instrumentation has been available to measure on-line trace amounts of benzene in such situations. We have recently proposed a highly accurate, high-speed cryofocusing gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) system for monitoring benzene concentrations in air. Accuracy of the analytical data is achieved by enrichment of the air sample before trapping, with a stable isotope permeation tube system. The same principles have been applied to a new instrument, specifically designed for operation on an electric vehicle (Ducato Elettra, Fiat). The zero emission vehicle and the fully transportable, battery-operated GC/MS system provide a unique possibility of monitoring benzene exposure in real everyday situations such as while driving, refuelling, or repairing a car. All power consumptions have been reduced so as to achieve a batteryoperated GC/MS system. Liquid nitrogen cryofocusing has been replaced by a packed, inductively heated, graphitized charcoal microtrap. The instrument has been mounted on shock absorbers and installed in the van. The whole system has been tested in both fixed and mobile conditions. The maximum monitoring period without external power supply is 6 h. The full analytical cycle is 4 min, allowing close to real-time monitoring, and the minimum detectable level is 1 μg/m3 for benzene. In-vehicle monitoring showed that, when recirculation was off and ventilation on, i.e., air from outside the vehicle was blown inside, concentrations varied widely in different driving conditions: moving from a parking lot into normal traffic on an urban traffic condition roadway yielded an increase in benzene concentration from 17 to 62.3 μg/m3 even if the actual distance was small. A larger increase was observed when a car was left with the engine running at a distance 2 m from the zero emission vehicle: We measured an increment of benzene concentrations from 15.2 to 174.4 μg/m3 with a car equipped with a catalytic converter, and from 19.1 to 386.3 μg/m3 with a car without such a converter.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)262-267
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - May 1996


  • Air pollution
  • Gas chromatography
  • Mass spectrometry Benzene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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