"CARE" investigates ultrafine black pollution in Rome

The recent alert given from Canada on the effects of traffic-related air pollution on dementia (The Lancet, 4-1-2017) well matches the rationale of the CARE experiment (Carbonaceous Aerosol in Rome and Environs) starting in Rome on February 2017, led by ISAC-CNR.

According to the World Health Organisation there is indeed epidemiological evidence on the association between short-term exposures to ultrafine particles (particle diameter less than 100 nm) and cardio-respiratory, as well as neurological illness (WHO, 2013). Living in urban areas inevitably increases the exposition to such ultrafine particles, and in particular to the carcinogenic ones indicated as black carbon, a marker of combustion processes (i.e., road-traffic, biomass burning). Even the colour of the atmospheric aerosol varies from white to brown to black with varying the relative amount of black carbon (that's where the name comes from). According to a recent work made for the European Commission, the largest black carbon concentrations in Europe occur in the Mediterranean urban areas (Cavalli et al., 2017), and thus possibly in Rome.

As ultrafine particles and black carbon are still a topic for scientific research, there is no air quality European regulation yet defining relevant measurement methods, protocols and procedures. Clinical and toxicological studies have shown that ultrafine particles act according to mechanisms which are different from those dominating the particulate matter fraction which is currently monitored by local environmental agencies, i.e. the PM10. Those mechanisms are dominated by size, number and surface of particles, whereas PM10 measurement metrics are dominated by the mass of particles. Therefore, even if PM10 and PM2.5 pose severe risks to human health (OMS-REVIHAAP Report, 2013), it is necessary to develop proper methods to characterize ultrafine particles and black carbon as well, and assess their impact on human health.

That’s the major scope of the CARE 2017 project. Measurements will be carried out thanks to the hospitality of Roma Capitale and to the collaboration between international and national research groups: besides Isac-CNR (AEROLAB), there will be the TROPOS institute of Leipzig, IIA-CNR, INFN, ENEA, the universities Statale of Milano, Sapienza of Roma, La Tuscia of Viterbo, ARPA Lazio, and IDAEA-CSIC of Barcelona.

'CARE 2017' field measurements will be based nearby Terme di Caracalla, in Rome. Here, two mobile vans will be equipped with state-of-the-art instruments to measure size, composition, and color of the atmospheric aerosol, ultrafine particles and black carbon with high time resolution. Here, cells of the human body will be concurrently exposed in-vitro for the assessment of nanoparticle and black carbon toxicity. From here, researchers will start everyday their journey on the way to the downtown Rome, with mobile instruments to characterize black carbon spatial variability, moving from low emission zones (Fori Imperiali) to the most polluted roads and street canyons.

CARE will give thus the first characterisation of the exposure of the Rome urban area, its inhabitants and cultural heritage, to ultrafine and black carbon aerosol particles.


For more information:

Gian Paolo Gobbi, Isac-Cnr, email: g.gobbiisac.cnr.it 

Francesca Costabile, Isac-Cnr, email:f.costabileisac.cnr.it

Luca Di Liberto, Isac-Cnr, email:l.dilibertoisac.cnr.it