Study reveals soil's role in air pollution and human health hazard

A new study recently published by an international team of scientists has uncovered a significant yet previously overlooked environmental concern. It revealed that soils, particularly in populated and industrialized areas, are not just passive repositories for polycyclic aromatic compounds (PACs) but active contributors to air pollution and its transport to remote locations. This phenomenon contributes to the deterioration of air quality and enhances its adverse effects on human health and the ecosystem in both populated and remote locations.

26 Feb 2024

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PACs (PAHs, oxygenated-PAHs, and nitrated-PAHs) are widely distributed toxic air pollutants that are products of combustion processes ubiquitous in human and industrial activities. These air pollutants are eventually deposited and stored in soils. Mostly in summer, they volatilize from the soils and re-evaporate into the air. That way, the direction of air-soil mass exchange is reversed, soils become secondary sources of these pollutants in the air, and the pollutants are transported further away from their source region to previously unpolluted remote locations.

Gerhard Lammel from RECETOX Centre emphasizes the importance of these findings: “Such re-emissions might add significantly to the concentrations of PACs in ambient air of source areas, albeit this contribution is not yet quantifiable. Despite European efforts to reduce PAH emissions over recent decades, this study indicates that emission inventories may overlook one type of emissions i.e., secondary emissions.”

Furthermore, the research highlights the 'grasshopper effect,' where these toxic compounds can travel long distances from their source areas, extending their hazardous impacts on the environment and human health.

For more information, please contact prof. Dr. Gerhard Lammel (

The research was supported by the Czech Science Foundation (20-07117S); the Max Planck Society; Research Infrastructure ACTRIS-CZ (No. LM2023030) and RECETOX (No. LM2023069) financed by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, and the OP RDE (the CETOCOEN EXCELLENCE project No. CZ.02.1.01/0.0/0.0/17_043/0009632).

Link to published article.

Article citation: John K. Mwangi, Céline Degrendele, Benjamin A.M. Bandowe, Pernilla Bohlin-Nizzetto, Anne K. Halse, Adela Holubová Šmejkalová, Jun-Tae Kim, Petr Kukučka, Jakub Martiník, Barbora Palátová Nežiková, Petra Přibylová, Roman Prokeš, Milan Sáňka, Mariam Tannous, Jakub Vinkler, Gerhard Lamme (2024). Air-soil cycling of oxygenated, nitrated and parent polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in source and receptor areas. Science of The Total Environment 921, 170495.

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