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Size‐resolved fluorescent biological aerosol particle concentrations and occupant emissions in a university classroom

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This study is among the first to apply laser-induced fluorescence to characterize bioaerosols at high time and size resolution in an occupied, common-use indoor environment. Using an ultraviolet aerodynamic particle sizer, we characterized total and fluorescent biological aerosol particle (FBAP) levels (1-15 μm diameter) in a classroom, sampling with 5-min resolution continuously during eighteen occupied and eight unoccupied days distributed throughout a one-year period. A material-balance model was applied to quantify per-person FBAP emission rates as a function of particle size. Day-to-day and seasonal changes in FBAP number concentration (NF ) values in the classroom were small compared to the variability within a day that was attributable to variable levels of occupancy, occupant activities, and the operational state of the ventilation system. Occupancy conditions characteristic of lecture classes were associated with mean NF source strengths of 2 × 10(6) particles/h/person, and 9 × 10(4) particles per metabolic g CO2 . During transitions between lectures, occupant activity was more vigorous, and estimated mean, per-person NF emissions were 0.8 × 10(6) particles per transition. The observed classroom peak in FBAP size at 3-4 μm is similar to the peak in fluorescent and biological aerosols reported from several studies outdoors.

Practical implications

Coarse particles that exhibit fluorescence at characteristic wavelengths are considered to be proxies for biological particles. Recently developed instruments permit their detection and sizing in real time. In a mechanically ventilated classroom, emissions from human occupants were a strong determinant of coarse-mode fluorescent biological aerosol particle (FBAP) levels. Human FBAP emission rates were significant under quiet occupancy conditions and increased with activity level. Fluorescent particle emissions peaked at a diameter of 3–4 μm, which is the expected modal size of airborne particles with associated microbes. Human activity patterns, and associated coarse FBAP and total particle levels varied strongly on short timescales. Thus, the dynamic temporal behavior of aerosol concentrations must be considered when determining collection protocols for samples meant to be representative of average concentrations using time-integrated or ‘snapshot’ bioaerosol measurement techniques.

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