Aerosols have been long known to damage the atmosphere, but it can be hard to quantify the impact, especially in Eastern Europe where data is scarce. A European Union (EU)-funded research project addressed this information gap by measuring atmospheric particulate matter (the fine particles suspended in the air) in north-eastern Romania and studying their chemical composition.
The project was called Intensive Characterisation of Atmospheric Aerosols in the north-eastern Romania at various Urban Sites, or ICAARUS. The project team studied the aerosol chemical composition in the region, gathering more reliable data for model predictions and risk assessments. “Despite strict EU legislation, data for Romania on atmospheric particulate matter had been scarce,” says ICAARUS project coordinator Cecilia Arsene. ICAARUS’s findings were impressive: aerosol levels in north-eastern Romania’s densely populated Iaşi region exceeded World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations, both in coarse particle (that contain mainly natural compounds) and fine particle (that contain mainly compounds produced by human activity) fractions, by up to 100%.
Arsene says the high aerosol levels are probably linked to the high rate of various pulmonary diseases registered at the Clinic of Pulmonary Diseases in Iaşi. These include cases like chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), pneumonia, asthma (allergy, rhinitis), bronchiectasis (sometimes associated with bacterial infection) and tuberculosis often detected in the area.
The analysis carried out during the project revealed the complexity of the chemistry of atmospheric aerosols, which involves inter-particle interaction, particularly under certain weather conditions. The project team also found that the pollution and dust in the region could be due to air masses arriving from Ukraine, Belorussia, Russia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey.
Arsene says the project results could act as a reference point for Eastern Europe, giving policymakers the technical know-how to take better-informed decisions. “I hope it will contribute to helping tackle these problems,” she says.
The three-year project was part of the EU’s Marie Curie programme of support for research fellows, and in this case, Arsene was both the project coordinator and the fellow. She says the fellowship helped her secure her current position as Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry at the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iaşi, Romania.
“As a researcher, you always hope your findings will be disseminated, and this is what happened,” she explains. “It helped when I applied for other projects for further research. The Marie Curie fellowship also gave me a very good basis to continue research in the field of atmospheric chemistry,” she adds.
Arsene was later contacted by other scientists seeking to collaborate on aerosol-related issues, including researchers from the University of Bucharest, Romania and the University of Vienna, Austria. In 2011 Arsene spent a month as a researcher at France’s prestigious Mines de Douai engineering school.
“The Marie Curie grant was the keystone in the evolution of my career from post-doctoral scientist to an independent principal investigator. And I am still working on the research, even though the ICAARUS project ended three years ago,” Arsene concludes.