Model Maps Isocyanic Acid Distribution | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 90 Issue 19 | p. 28 | Concentrates
Issue Date: May 7, 2012

Model Maps Isocyanic Acid Distribution

Study suggests where to find high concentrations of the coal- and biomass-derived toxic substance HNCO
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: isocyanic acid, atmosphere, biomass burning, coal, diesel, pollution
Modeled annual HNCO emissions.
Credit: J. Geophys. Res.
Map shows modeled annual HNCO emissions.
Modeled annual HNCO emissions.
Credit: J. Geophys. Res.

A modeling study of atmospheric isocyanic acid (HN=C=O) suggests that it may reach harmful concentrations in China, Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa (J. Geophys. Res., DOI: 10.1029/2011jd017393). HNCO is emitted from burning biomass as well as coal. Studies suggest that atmospheric concentrations of 1 ppb by volume may impair health. Researchers have only recently developed analytical tools capable of measuring HNCO in the atmosphere (C&EN, May 23, 2011, page 32). In the new work, a group led by Paul J. Young, a research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, in Boulder, Colo., used a chemical transport model to estimate global distribution of HNCO. The results suggest that HNCO could reach harmful concentrations in areas with significant seasonal wildfires, including Southeast Asia, the western Amazon basin, and tropical Africa. In China, high HNCO concentrations were found to be driven by anthropogenic emissions. The predictions should help guide where researchers study the molecule in the future, Young says.

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