Characterization of odorous industrial plumes by coupling fast and slow mass spectrometry techniques for volatile organic compounds

Wen Tzu Liu, Wei Cheng Liao, Stephen M. Griffith, Chih Chung Chang, Yue Chuen Wu, Chieh Heng Wang, Jia Lin Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study aimed to develop a technique to chemically characterize odor issues in neighborhoods of designated industrial zones with pronounced emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Due to the elusive nature of odor plumes, speedy detection with sufficient sensitivity is required to capture the plumes. In this demonstration, proton-transfer-reaction mass spectrometry (PTR-MS) was used as the front-line detection tool in an industrial zone to guide sampling canisters for in-laboratory analysis of 106 VOCs by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry/flame ionization detector (GC-MS/FID). The fast but less accurate PTR-MS coupled with the slow but accurate GC-MS/FID method effectively eliminates the drawbacks of each instrument and fortifies the strength of both when combined. A 10-day PTR-MS field screening period was conducted to determine suitable trigger VOC species with exceedingly high mixing ratios that were likely the culprits of foul odors. Twenty canister samples were then collected, triggered by m/z 43, 61 (ethyl acetate, fragments, EA), m/z 73 (methyl ethyl ketone, MEK), or m/z 88 (morpholine) in all cases. Internal consistency was confirmed by the high correlation of critical species in the PTR-MS and trigger samples. Several long-lived halocarbons were exploited as the intrinsic internal reference for quality assurance. Oxygenated VOCs (OVOCs) accounted for 15%–75% of the total VOC mixing ratios in the triggered samples. However, EA and MEK, the most prominent OVOC species, did not appear to have common sources with morpholine, which presented with PTR-MS peaks incoherent with the other OVOCs. Nevertheless, these distinctive OVOC plumes were consistent with the multiple types of odor reported by the local residents. In contrast with the triggered sampling, random samples in the same industrial zone and roadside samples in a major metropolitan area were collected. The pronounced OVOC content in the triggered samples highlighted the advantage over random grab sampling to address odor issues.

Original languageEnglish
Article number135304
StatePublished - Oct 2022


  • OVOCs
  • Odor threshold
  • PTR-MS
  • Trigger sampling


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