Incomplete burning of biomass releases organic aerosols that contribute to the oxidative potential of fine particulate matter, the researchers say. Credit: S. Priyadarshini

Partial burning of biomass and transport-linked fossil fuels create organic aerosols that are hazardous to human health, according to a study1.

The aerosols damage cells and cause inflammation in the body, say researchers at Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, who analysed the chemical makeup of particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) and its oxidative potential from five sites in and around Delhi.

Using advanced aerosol mass spectrometry techniques and data analytics, they concluded that despite uniformly high PM concentrations across the study region, local emission sources and formation processes contribute to air pollution.

Organic aerosols from incomplete combustion of biomass (cow dung, wood, agricultural waste) and fossil fuels, including traffic emissions, are the key contributors to the PM oxidative potential, which impacts people's health in this region.

Ammonium chloride and organic aerosols from traffic exhaust, residential heating, and oxidation of unsaturated vapours from fossil fuels are the dominant PM sources inside Delhi. Ammonium sulfate, nitrate, and secondary organic aerosols from biomass burning vapours, are produced outside Delhi.