The application of PTR-MS and non-targeted analysis to characterize VOCs emitted from a plastic recycling facility fire. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: On April 11th, 2023, the My Way Trading (MWT) recycling facility in Richmond, Indiana caught fire, mandating the evacuation of local residents and necessitating the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct air monitoring. The EPA detected elevated levels of plastic combustion-related air pollutants, including hydrogen cyanide and benzene. OBJECTIVE: We aimed to identify these and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present as well as to identify the potential hazard of each compound for various human health effects. METHODS: To identify the VOCs, we conducted air monitoring at sites within and bordering the evacuation zone using proton transfer reaction mass spectrometry (PTR-MS) and non-targeted analysis (NTA). To facilitate risk assessment of the emitted VOCs, we used the EPA Hazard Comparison Dashboard. RESULTS: We identified 46 VOCs, within and outside the evacuation zone, with average detection levels above local background levels measured in Middletown, OH. Levels of hydrogen cyanide and 4 other VOCs were at least 1.8-fold higher near the incidence site in comparison to background levels and displayed unique temporal and spatial patterns. The 46 VOCs identified had the highest hazardous potential for eye and skin irritation, with approximately 45% and 39%, respectively, of the VOCs classified as high and very high hazards for these endpoints. Notably, all detected VOC levels were below the hazard thresholds set for single VOC exposures; however, hazard thresholds for exposure to VOC mixtures are currently unclear. IMPACT: This study serves as a proof-of-concept that PTR-MS coupled with NTA can facilitate rapid identification and hazard assessment of VOCs emitted following anthropogenic disasters. Furthermore, it demonstrates that this approach may augment future disaster responses to quantify additional VOCs present in complex combustion mixtures.

published proceedings

  • J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol

author list (cited authors)

  • Vitucci, E., Oladeji, O., Presto, A. A., Cannon, C. L., & Johnson, N. M.

complete list of authors

  • Vitucci, Eva CM||Oladeji, Oladayo||Presto, Albert A||Cannon, Carolyn L||Johnson, Natalie M

publication date

  • May 2024