Emissions from cooking may affect air quality, study finds

Photo (c) Photographer, Basak Gurbuz Derman - Getty Images

Experts say the pollutants emitted from cooking may remain active in the atmosphere for several days

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Birmingham explored how cooking at home may affect air quality. According to their findings, cooking produces organic aerosols – pollutants that may stay active in the air for several days. 

“Cooking aerosols account for up to 10% of particulate matter (PM) emissions in the U.K.,” said researcher Dr. Christian Pfrang. “Finding accurate ways to predict their behavior will give us much more precise ways to also assess their contribution to climate change.” 

How cooking affects air quality

For the study, the researchers utilized instruments from the Diamond Light Source and the Central Laser Facility and focused primarily on an unsaturated fatty acid that is emitted while cooking called oleic acid. The team used a theoretical model to predict how quickly oleic acid levels built up and how long the pollutants stuck in the air. 

The researchers learned that the molecular makeup of oleic acid made it difficult for it to break down and fully evaporate from the atmosphere when it was emitted from cooking. Their work showed that these organic aerosols may stay stagnant in the atmosphere for several days and that they could harm consumers by negatively affecting overall air quality.

“We’re increasingly finding out how molecules like these fatty acids from cooking can organize themselves into bilayers and other regular shapes and stacks within aerosol droplets that float in the air, and how this completely changes how fast they degrade, how long they persist in the atmosphere, and how they affect pollution and weather,” said researcher Dr. Adam Squires. 

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