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Adsorption and desorption of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) in the indoor environment

Alona Svidovsky and Yael Dubowski

One of the major pollutants in the indoor environment is environmental tobacco smoke (ETS).  It has harmful health effects on both active and passive smokers and may continue to have adverse effects long after a cigarette is extinguished. This later effect is termed “thirdhand smoke” (THS).

Many models try to predict ETS fate in the indoor environment, but most of them do not consider its sorption under different environmental condition, on different surfaces and heterogeneous reactions of ETS compounds. This is in part due to the current lack of quantitative information regarding the affect of such parameters on nicotine sorption and reactivity.

This research investigates ETS sorption and desorption on cotton, as representative of clothes and common indoor surfaces, under different air exchange rates (AER). The focus is on nicotine, as a common tracer for ETS.

Sorption experiments of nicotine on cotton indicate that its initial sorption rate is not very sensitive to AER (between 0.4-1.5 h-1) and is slightly enhanced under high relative humidity. Desorption of ETS from cotton is fast (t1/2~minutes), but a significant residue of nicotine, that defuses deeper into the cotton, remains on the surface for longer time.

This research provides specific kinetic constants regarding ETS interaction with different indoor surfaces. The obtained data will increase the understanding of ETS behavior in the indoor environment, and will help to improve mathematical models for predicting its levels following smoking in indoor settings.