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Atmospheric Environment Vol. 32, No. 20, pp. 35693580, 1998

( 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved
Printed in Great Britain
13522310/98 $19.00#0.00


*Laboratorio di Tossicologia Industriale ed Allergologia Professionale, CEMOC, Azienda Sanitaria USSL
41, v. Pogatschnig, 34; I-20146 MILANO, Italy; and Istituto di Medicina del Lavoro, Clinica del Lavoro
.Devoto, Universita` degli Studi di Milano, v. San Barnaba, 8; I-20122 Milano, Italy
(First received in final form 2 March 1998. Published July 1998)
AbstractAir quality inside buildings, whether naturally or mechanically ventilated, is strongly dependent
on that of ambient external air in the surrounding atmosphere. This paper describes results obtained in the
assessment of urban air quality influence in the neighbouring of a tall, multistorey building with mechanical
ventilation on its indoor air quality. Within the study, which lasted for more than 30 d of continuous
monitoring, the concentrations of carbon monoxide (CO), of total and grossly speciated classes of airborne
organic vapours and of PM airborne particulate were measured both outdoors, at ground and at various
10 the top of the tower building (approximately 100 m) and inside the building.
heights between street level and
The daily variation of airborne pollutants in the urban atmosphere in the neighbouring of the tower
building was traced as the contribution of both time-dependent pollutant production from urban outdoor
sources (mainly vehicular traffic) and of the variation of meteoclimatic conditions influencing pollutant
diffusion from street level upwards. In particular, a steady concentration decrease with increasing height of
the concentration of automotive-related pollutants, such as of PM airborne particulate, of a mixture of
10 in the immediate neghbouring of the
volatile aromatic compounds (TAAC) and of CO could be measured
tower building (values of 40 kg m~3 of PM airborne particulate decreasing to 32 kg m~3 at 80 m; of 5 mg
10 with a 30% decrease at 100 m height; of 3 mg m~3 of CO
of benzene equivalents m~3 at ground level
decreasing to 2.2 mg m~3 at 100 m). The acquired information was employed to advice the building
management on the improvement of indoor air quality attainable by moving the air feed grid of the HVAC
system to a higher level from ground. An example is reported, which shows the improvement of the indoor
air quality in a three-storey peripheral building of the same complex subject to scheduled refurbishing,
obtained by moving the HVAC air feed point, originally at #4 m in an internal courtyard, to the building
roof, at about #11 m. ( 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved
Key word index: Aromatic hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide (CO), continuous measurement, PM air10
borne particulate, urban air pollution, vertical gradient.


Air quality study in indoor spaces (IAQ) is a fundamental and applied research topic of ever-growing
interest, since the population of developed countries
spends an increasing proportion of lifetime within
confined spaces (homes, work, commercial and leisure
places, vehicles) and is thus exposed to a largely artificial environment, the air supply to which may be
mediated by mechanical devices, such as the ventilation system (HVAC) of buildings. The final quality of
air inside buildings is determined by the effect of three
main occurring phenomena: (i) pollution of the out-

Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.

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door air in the neighbourhood of the building with

respect to both continuous and intermittent sources,
such as domestic heating or vehicular traffic (e.g.:
Hayward et al., 1993; Weschler et al., 1993; Teijonsalo
et al., 1994; Ekberg, 1994; Ekberg, 1995; Ando et al.,
1996); (ii) pollution generated by indoor activities
(presence of occupants; Olcerts, 1994; release of chemicals from building materials, use of chemical auxiliaries in clerical activities; Wolkoff, 1993) and finally
(iii) by the smoothing effect which the mechanical
ventilation system exerts on both (e.g. Shair and Heitner, 1974).
The evaluation of the quality of outdoor air in the
proximity of a building is a key step in the assessment
of global IAQ in mechanically ventilated buildings,
since the outdoor concentration of airborne pollutants at the air supply point to the HVAC system is


F. M. RUBINO et al.


the main parameter determining the quality of the air

supplied to the occupants inside the building (Sparks,
1992). To this regard, the choice of an adequate position for air supply, optimized with reference to its
distance from urban traffic streams and to its height
above street level, is the most efficient strategy to
achieve as low as possible influence of airborne chemical contamination from traffic inside the building.
While the vertical distribution of some airborne
pollutants over the height scale of the general troposphere has been previously measured (e.g. SO : Berx
kowitz, 1991; HCHO: Kelly and Fortune, 1994; CO:
Klemm et al., 1996), on the contrary the low-height
scale pertinent to the urban heat island has been, to
our knowledge, much less investigated. For example,
measurements of the night concentrations of nitrogen
oxides (NO ) in the ground-to-400 m height layer of
a Japanese town (Sahashi et al., 1996) were obtained
by employing point samplers hanging from a tethered
balloon. Pfeffer et al. (1995) compared measurements
of traffic-related gaseous pollutants (CO and NO )
simultaneously obtained at 1.5 and 3.5 m over ground
in street canyons of German towns. Literature information on the vertical stratification of airborne
pollutants in the lower urban atmosphere is in fact
limited and results are necessarily of local validity. As
a consequence, it is generally difficult to define rules
for height positioning HVAC air feed grids of sealed,
mechanically ventilated buildings.
The case study reported in this paper was triggered
by the necessity to examine possible strategies able to
reduce the influence of transient increases of external
pollutants on indoor air quality of a urban office
building in Milan, e.g. by considering the opportunity
to move the HVAC air supply from ground level to
the top of the investigated building, or to optimize the
running parameters of its HVAC system. The behaviour of airborne automotive-related pollutants
(carbon monoxide, some chemical classes of organic
pollutants, PM
airborne particulate) was thus
studied over the length of several typical Winter days,
on the height scale between ground and about 100 m
level, to understand the vertical transport of groundproduced air pollutants in the immediate proximity of
urban buildings and to evaluate their influence on the
chemical quality of air supply to mechanically ventilated buildings.


Study design
Data were acquired within an extensive IAQ monitoring
campaign performed on Grattacielo Pirelli, a large office
building block, which is located in an open square with
a high density of urban traffic, within the city center of
Milan. The main building of the block is a tall (30-storey,
130 m) tower with fully mechanical ventilation, surrounded
by a partially independent three-storey building. The HVAC
air feed grid is located near ground, on a highly trafficked
square. Some preliminary study results have been disclosed

elsewhere (Rubino et al., 1995). Briefly, in the course of

a 2 month long campaign conducted in Winter 199495, 10
evenly spaced floors of the building were continuously
monitored for a total of 22 consecutive days (13 Monday-toThursday weekdays). On each floor, monitoring was performed on a sample of four office rooms, representing about
5% of the global office space, and in the central position of
the main gangway. Monitoring of outdoor air was performed simultaneously to that of indoor air, sampling from
the external safety staircase platform at the same height level
above ground of each monitored floor.
To evaluate the influence of pollutant aerodiffusion between ground level and the top of the tower building, the
time profiles of their concentration were measured (4
measurements/hour, for at least 5 consecutive days) in the air
of the external safety staircase platform of the building at 11
different height levels between ground and #100 m. Due to
experimental limitations, data acquisition was performed in
two temporally separate sets, characterized by the absence of
substantial differences in weather conditions and meteoclimatic parameters: five height levels between ground and
#12 m (lower set) and six levels from #20 to #100 m
(upper set). The experimentally measured concentration vs.
height data were elaborated to obtain height gradients of
pollutants concentration, and numerically interpolated with
a best-fit polynomial function. The computational details
of the elaborations have been published elsewhere (Rubino
et al., 1996).
Pollutant measurements
Measurement of the concentration of selected pollutant
gases and organic vapours in the urban and indoor air was
accomplished with a computer-controlled infrared photoacoustic detector (PAS-IR) coupled to a 6-port multipoint
sampler (model 13021303; Bruel and Kjr, Denmark). The
instrument is equipped with a 6-position carousel carrying
interferential infra-red filters selective for each of 5 analytes:
CO , CO, Total Airborne Organic Compounds (TAOC),
2 Airborne Aromatic Compounds (TAAC), Total AirTotal
borne Carbonyl Compounds (TACC) and for water vapour,
the adsorption of which is employed to correct for unspecific
background adsorption. The filters employed for the measurement of total and speciated organic compounds have
bandpasses centered around: 1020 cm~1 (in-plane CH bending) for TAAC; 2800 cm~1 (Fermi resonance of carbonyl
C"O with CH bending) for TACC; 2950 cm~1 (CH
stretching) for TAOC. Temperature measurements were also
taken along with air monitoring. Calibration of the instrument was performed by the manufacturer, and periodic
checks were performed on a routine basis only for CO and
CO (certified composition gas cylinders at 10 mg m~3 for
CO2 and 1000 mg m~3 for CO ), since the instrument is
mainly employed for regulatory monitoring
of compliance to
industrial hygiene standards at workplaces.
Molecularly specific measurement of the concentration of
airborne aromatic hydrocarbons (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes; BTEX) was accomplished by point-sampling urban air into thoroughly purged, pre-evacuated 50 ml
glass vials and then analysing the organic vapours by
cryofocusing-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (Fustinoni et al., 1995). Four air samples were taken at each of
seven different height levels between ground floor and
#110 m from the external safety staircase at the NW end of
the tower building, between 8.30 and 9.30 am, with such a
time schedule as to obtain pairs of synchronous measurements at the extremes of the height interval.
The airborne concentration of particulate matter (aerodynamic diameter )10 km; PM ) was measured with a self10
calibrated portable laser light-scatterig
device (MIE RAM-1,
TCR-Tecora, USA), both indoors, in a central gangway
position and outdoors, on the external platform at the same
height level above ground of each monitored floor. All
measurements were taken between 9:30 and 11 am, in a

Concentration gradients in urban atmosphere

single morning. The reported values are the mean readings
obtained, at each position, over 5 min and with the instrument time constant set at the maximum value of 2 s.
Urban general meteoclimatic data (temperature, humidity,
barometric pressure, wind average and peak speed) were
obtained from a University-managed meteorological station,
located about 1800 m NW from the tower, at a height of
#25 m.


(a) ime profile of carbon monoxide (CO) and

organic vapour pollutants
The time profile of CO concentration, was continuously measured in the proximity of Grattacielo Pirelli,
for 36 days between 12 January and 21 February,
1995 and with an interruption between February
9 and 14 (Fig. 1). CO concentration ranged between
0.8 and 14 mg m~3; (log-normal mean concentration
2.3$2.1 mg m~3; n"3242) and showed a variable
time profile, characterized by inter- and intra-daily
fluctuations in the absolute minima and maxima, related to daily and weekly variations in the strength of
urban vehicular traffic, and to meteoclimatic parameters which influencing atmosphere stability and
pollutant mobility.
The outdoor concentration profiles of total and
grossly speciated organic vapour pollutants (TAOC,
TAAC, TACC) were also measured (data not re-


ported). The environmental TAOC concentration in

our study ranged between 0.1 and 6 mg CH equiv.
m~3 (log-normal mean: 0.15$0.14 mg CH equiv.
m~3; n"3242). Since the major source of organic
airborne contamination in the urban atmosphere
close to ground level is attributable to automotive
engine exaust, the time profile of the concentration of
TAOCthe most general class of airborne organics
measured in our PAS-IR studyas expected resulted
closely associated to that of carbon monoxide
(b) Indoor/outdoor airborne pollutant relationship in
mechanically ventilated buildings
The relationship between the concentration time
profiles of gaseous airborne pollutants measured indoor and outdoors in a mechanically ventilated building is exemplified in the graph of Fig. 2, which reports
CO concentration continuously recorded over several
days indoors at the 6th storey of Grattacielo Pirelli
and outdoors, at the same height above ground of
the monitored building storey (i.e. at #22 m from
ground). The time profile of the indoor concentration
(solid dashed trace between 17 pm and 6 am, outside
the working hours of the HVAC system; solid trace
between 6 am and 17 pm, during the working hours of
the HVAC system) essentially follows that of the environmental one (narrow trace), with smoother indoor than environmental concentration variations, so

Fig. 1. Time profile of CO concentration recorded between 12 January and 21 February 1995 in the
proximity of Grattacielo Pirelli. Dotted lines represent interruptions in data acquisition.


F. M. RUBINO et al.

Fig. 2. Time profile of CO concentration recorded over several days indoors at the 6th storey (#22 m from
ground) of Grattacielo Pirelli and outdoors. Solid trace: indoors, between 17 pm and 6 am, outside the
working hours of the HVAC system; Solid dashed trace: indoors, between 6 am and 17 pm, during the
working hours of the HVAC system; narrow trace: outdoors, at the same height of the monitored building

that external concentration transients are transmitted

indoors attenuated in intensity and delayed in time
(Ekberg, 1994, 1995).
In our case, a systematic investigation of the indooroutdoor CO concentration difference measured
during the HVAC-on hours (approx. between 7 am
and 17 pm of week-days) on the 10 monitored
building storeys afforded a positive difference (i.e. the
indoor concentration being higher than the
synchronous environmental one) with a modal value
of 0.6 mg CO m~3 and with mean daily concentration
differences at individual storeys ranging from 0.3 to
1.2 mg CO m~3. To avoid a misleading interpretation
of this unexpectedly observed phenomenon, it should
at first be considered that little if any contribution of
indoor production to indoor CO levels is likely to
occur, since no free combustion source is present in
the building and an even rough evaluation yields
a negligible result for the contribution of tobacco
smoking to indoor CO concentration. Secondly, the
indoor CO concentration mayat least at first instancebe employed to surrogate the environmental
CO concentration at the HVAC feed point at ground,
which latter could not be measured simultaneously to
indoor monitoring at each building storey, as a consequence of unavoidable experimental limitations. The
mean daily (indooroutdoor) concentration differences measured at the individual building storeys (3rd
to 29th) during the HVAC-on hours were unrelated to

the mean environmental concentration simultaneously measured at the height of the same storeys, at
above-ground levels ranging from approx. 10100 m;
however, the relationship of (indooroutdoor) concentration differences with storey height above
ground suggested that the environmental outdoor CO
concentrationand possibly those of other airborne
pollutantsmight decrease with increasing height on
the ground-to-100m height scale in the proximity of
the tower building.
(c) Height gradient of airborne pollutants between
ground level and about 100 m height
The above suggested phenomenon appeared worthwhile a more detailed investigation, due to the applicative consequences (which will be highlighted in
greater detail in the following section) exerted on
indoor air quality policies by possible stratification of
pollutants in the urban air. Therefore, synchronized
height-resolved measurements of the concentration of
some pollutants were undertaken, as will be referred
of in the following. The pollutants selected for
measurement (carbon monoxide, airborne aromatic
compounds and PM airborne particulate matter)
are representative of the main classes of toxicologically relevant constituents of lower urban troposphere, i.e. non-condensable gases, airborne vapours
and inhalable solid matter. The vertical air temperature profile in the close proximity of the building was

Concentration gradients in urban atmosphere


Fig. 3. Mean daily vertical air temperature profile in the close proximity of the tower building. Upper box:
temperature measured as a reference at ground level. Lower box: difference between the temperature
measured at higher levels (#22, #55 and #104 m) and the ground-level reference.

also measured, to provide a reading frame for the

variation of the concentration of pollutants with increasing height.
Temperature was recorded for several days, simultaneously to the PAS-IR measurements, at ground
level and at 22, 55 and 104 m on the external safety
staircase platform of the building. The mean daily
profile of temperature measured at ground level is
shown in the upper box of Fig. 3. The minimum daily
temperature at ground (hourly averaged values) was
recorded early in the day, before sunrise, and the
maximum after noon (around 13 pm). The lower box
of Fig. 3 shows the mean daily profiles of the difference between the temperature measured at higher
levels (#22, #55 and #104 m) and the groundlevel reference. The temperature steadily increases between ground and the top of the tower building at all
hours of the day (positive gradient); the increase is
largest at dawn, immediately before sunrise (between
7:007:30 am; as large as 8C 100 m~1) when only the
top of the tower building is heated by sunlight while
its foot is still in the dark, and gradually decreases into
the day, to reach its minimum value (less than
3C 100 m~1) in the evening immediately before
sunset (left panel of Fig. 4).
Airborne particulate matter is a very complex
mixture which contains compounds from several
chemical classes, among which those with toxic and
carcinogenic properties (such as PAH), deriving from
the unburnt fraction of automotive fuels, may pose

Fig. 4. Left panel: vertical minimum and maximum daily

temperature gradient; right panel: vertical profile of PM
airborne particulate concentration. The grey vertical block
in the Figures represents the tower building.


F. M. RUBINO et al.

a long-term health hazard. Therefore, the inhalable

fraction (PM ) of airborne particulate matter is
a parameter of urban air quality which has recently
been subject to regulatory monitoring in Italy for the
assessment and control of urban air quality (Italian
Parlament Decree No 285, 30 April 1992; Italian Law
No 146, 12 April 1995). In the urban environment, its
concentration is expected to be higher in the immediate proximity to street level than above. In fact, point
measurements taken at various heights on both the
up-wind and down-wind sides of the building between
911 am showed a steady decrease from approx.
40 kg m~3 at ground level to approx. 32 kg m~3 within 80 m from ground (right panel of Fig. 4). The
concentration of PM is consistently lower on the
down-wind side of the building (vertical dash symbols
in the figure) with respect to the up-wind side (cross
symbols). Above approx. 80 m from ground, the
PM concentration shows a sharp decrease to values
averaging 25 kg m~3 and not showing any definite
height trend. The indoor PM concentration was
homogeneous at 25$1.8 kg m~3 in all building
floors, as a consequence of efficient air filtration in the
buildings HVAC system.
To investigate on the height profile of the concentration of airborne organics and carbon monoxide,
the organics (TAOC, TACC and TAAC) and CO
PAS-IR measurements were elaborated to highlight
the possible presence of vertical gradients of pollutant
concentration. The elaborations of TAAC and CO
measurements proved successful to observation of
a gradient, while those of TAOC and TACC did not.
A tentative explanation for such difference will be
forwarded in point a of Discussion.
Mean TAAC levels (log-normal mean DS; 260(n
(340; global 24 h values) plotted against sampling
height are found to decrease from about 63 mg benzene equiv. m~3 within 50 m from ground, while
showing an increase in the upper half (50100 m) of
the height interval (solid line in Fig. 5). In order to
investigate for possible daynight differences in the
behaviour of airborne aromatic compounds, day
night time-framed subsets (between 7 am and 5 pm for
the day and from 5pm to 7 am for the night, selected
from seasonal sunrise and sunset hours) were extracted from the global height-resolved concentration vs
time TAAC measurements. Plot of the time-resolved
average TAAC concentration vs height highlighted
two gradient profiles (dotted solid lines in the figure):
that obtained for the day-hours features a lower relative decrease from the ground-level value to the minimum one (reached between 20 and 70 m) than that in
the night-hours; moreover, the increase of concentration observed in the upper half of the height interval
leads to higher values in the day than in the night.
Since TAAC measurement by PAS-IR is affected
as will be further discussedby a limited analytical
selectivity, some confirmative molecular-specific
measurements of airborne BTEX were also accomplished by GC-MS, following point sampling of

Fig. 5. Mean daily TAAC concentration measured between

ground and 100 m height. The lines represent best-fit equations (r2 0.94) through the data, either global or stratified
according to day-(717 am) and night-(177 am) time; the
error bars represent the excursion (mean values $DS) of the
global 24 h data.

urban air at various height levels between 15 and

105 m. Sampling was accomplished between 8:30
9:30 am, i.e. at the time of the maximum strength
of vehicular traffic and on the decreasing edge of the
measured daily profile of atmospheric stability. The
time profiles (28 samples over 1 h) of the concentration of individual alkyl-benzene hydrocarbons in the
BTEX mixture are closely similar to each other, as
expected from their common origin. To highlight the
presence of a concentration difference between
ground and top of the building, BTEX data were
divided into two groups according to sampling height
(1550 and 75100 m), as reported in the second and
third data blocks of Table 1. A statistically significant
difference was found between the two groups, the
BTEX concentration in the 75105 m layer being
lower by approximately 25% than in the 1545 m
air belt (Fig. 6). The molecular-specific BTEX measurement therefore enhances our confidence in the
true existence of the gradient phenomenon, initially
observed with the considerably less specific, but
continuous PAS-IR TAAC measurement.
The height profile of CO concentration between
ground level and about 100 m height (global 24 h
values; Fig. 7) shows, as expected, a higher value near
ground (mean CO concentration 3.1 mg m~3 at 4 m),

Concentration gradients in urban atmosphere


Table 1. Concentration (kg m~3) of airborne aromatic hydrocarbons in the lower urban troposphere of Milan, measured by
point sampling and cryofocusing-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry
Sampling height

15105 m

1545 m

75105 m

Compound name










Xylene (m-#p-)
Xylene (o-)
Sum of BTEX













Note: Concentration measured at the uppermost height significantly different vs. that at the lowermost: P(0.001 (t-test
for paired data).

Fig. 6. Total aromatic hydrocarbons (BTEX) measured simultaneously between 1545 m (lower group)
and between 75105 m (upper group) in the proximity of a tall tower building (individual compounds
measured by GC-MS; values in kg m~3).

where the pollutant is mostly generated, than at the

top of the building (mean CO concentration
2.2 mg m~3 at 104 m). Its concentration decrease with
increasing height is sharper within the first 20 mat
mostfrom ground (!20% between 4 and 22 m),
while at heights between 20 and 100 m the decrease is
nearly negligible (less than 10%). Also for CO,
daynight time-framed subsets were extracted from
the concentration vs time data set: although the concentration vs height profiles and excursion limits obtained for both time shifts result very similar in their
absolute values, a moderate difference in the relative
decrease of CO concentration with reference to

ground-level values could be observed between day

(!28% at 100 m) and night (!38%).
(d) Effect of a height gradient of airborne pollutants on
outdoor/indoor air quality relationship in mechanically
ventilated buildings
The above-reported results experimentally demonstrate the expected occurrence of measurable negative
concentration gradients of some airborne pollutants
in the proximity of urban buildings, and furthermore
highlight that the most prominent concentration decrease occurs in the air layer immediately proximate


F. M. RUBINO et al.

Fig. 7. Mean decrease of carbon monoxide (CO) concentration with increasing height between ground and 100 m. The
solid lines represent the best-fit curves (r2*0.94) across
experimental data; the pair of narrow lines are the excursion
limits of the concentration.

to ground (e.g. within 020 m, at most). Therefore,

displacement of the HVAC air feed point from
a near-ground position to the roof of a 23 floor
building may prove a viable intervention to mitigate
the influence of street-produced air pollution on
building air quality. As an applicative example of the
efficacy of such small-scale interventions towards improvement of indoor air quality, one three-storey
building within the Grattacielo Pirelli complex was
subject to extensive functional modifications, which
included refurbishing of its HVAC system and repositioning of the HVAC air feed from a grid #4 m
above road level to a pipe on the building roof, at
#11 m. To test the efficacy of the intervention, the
concentration profiles of carbon monoxide and of
organic pollutants were measured over several days
both at the position of former grid, and at the newly
employed grid. Figure 8 exemplifies the results of air
quality monitoring performed under conditions of
low and high local air pollution, by employing TAAC
as the tracer pollutant: as apparent, the concentration
profiles measured in both positions under conditions
of low air pollution are very similar, i.e. no air quality
improvement is expected. However, in the course of
transient high-pollution episodes, such as those occurring on the 2nd and 3rd monitoring day (marked with
asterisks in the figure), the concentration of airborne
pollutants is lower at the position of the upper (new)
air feed grid, than at the lower (old) one, thus demonstrating the efficacy of the intervention.

Fig. 8. Time profile of the concentration of total airborne aromatic compound (TAAC) measured by
PAS-IR in the outdoor urban air in proximity of the air feed grids of the HVAC system of a refurbished
office building. The narrow line represents sampling at the former grid, at 4 m above ground solid line
represents that at the currently employed grid, at 11 m above street level. For the meaning of the asterisks
see text.

Concentration gradients in urban atmosphere


(a) ertical concentration gradient of automotive pollutants in urban atmosphere

Measurements taken along a 100 m urban tower
building highlighted a decrease with increasing height
of the concentration of three markers (PM partic10
ulate matter, a mixture of aromatic hydrocarbons
and carbon monoxide) of the main different classes of
airborne pollutants present in the urban atmosphere as a consequence of vehicular traffic. The
phenomenon has been more easily observed for airborne particulate matter and organic vapours, than
for a permanent gas pollutant such as CO, for
which a sophisticated data elaboration was needed
(Rubino et al., 1996). It is conceivable that the
pollutant concentration difference between ground
and upper heights is the consequence of its emission
mainly at street level and of its upward transport
following the temperature gradient. The convective
upward air motion resulting from the measured
positive temperature gradient (ranging from 3 to
8C 100 m~1; the temperature increase with increasing height from ground corresponding to neutral atmosphere stabilityi.e. no upward or downward
movement of air parcelsis of approx. 1C 100 m~1
(Seinfeld, 1986)) may enhance air mixing, thus decreasing the concentration difference of ground-produced pollutants between the source height and the
uppermost air layers. The observed daily alternance of
the concentration gradient of airborne pollutants
(exemplified by those of CO and of aromatic hydrocarbons) may be qualitatively explained by considering that there is greater vertical mixing during the
night (increasing temperature gradient; enhanced pollutant diffusion) than during the day (decreasing temperature gradient).
The study was exploited for some weeks during
a mild Winter, to study the phenomenon in the season
of the year when urban air pollution is higherdue to
presence of intense emission sources such as domestic
heating (which is much reduced in the milder season)
and to meteoclimatic conditions disfavouring pollutant removaland may therefore most probably
negatively influence the indoor air quality. The acquired database is however far too limited in time to
draw general conclusions on the influence of meteoclimatic parameters on the vertical distribution of
ground-produced air pollutants in the lower urban
Tentative explanations may be forwarded to account for failure to observe a measurable gradient
of the concentration of total airborne organic
compounds (TAOC) and of total airborne carbonyl
compounds (TACC). The missing observation of a decrease of TAOC concentration with increasing height
isin our opinionan artifactual consequence of the
limited analytical selectivity of organics measurements by PAS-IR (see also point c of Discussion).
Methane is the most abundant individual hydrocar-


bon component of urban atmosphere (in Milan, concentrations of 12 mg m~3 have been measured)
anddue to its low molecular massit is expected to
be evenly distributed in the atmosphere. Despite the
sensitivity of its measurement by PAS-IR is not high
(about 300 ppbv), while that of the airborne trace
organics (present at ppbv concentrations) is higher by
two orders of magnitude (a few ppbv); therefore,
the analytical signal due to its high concentration may
overwhelm the contribution of airborne trace organics, thus possibly hampering the observation of
the (expected) concentration decrease of higher organics with increasing height. A different explanation
may be proposed to account for lack of an observable
height gradient of airborne carbonyl compounds: it is
in fact known that comparatively little emission is
generated from automotive exausts at ground level,
while production mainly occurs by secondary photooxidation of hydrocarbon precursors in the bulk urban atmosphere (Seinfeld, 1986; Atkinson, 1990). Lack
of a concentration difference within the narrow urban
height belt studied is therefore justified, also considered that formaldehyde, the most abundant airborne carbonyl compound is generated from the
evenly distributed methane precursor.
(b) Relevance of vertical pollutant gradient to Italian
urban building regulations
A key assumption of indoor air quality studies in
non-industrial buildings is thatdue to the expected
low level of indoor chemical emission in comparison
to industrial buildingsthe attainable level of indoor
air pollution strongly depends on a constantly
adequate air quality at the supply point to the mechanical ventilation system, and ultimately on environmental air quality in the appropriate surroundings
of the individual building (e.g. Basilico et al., 1996).
Since effective action for the reduction of the overall
level of urban airborne pollution is hardly achievable
outside the framework of a wide-scale urban
planning, local-scale intervention may result costeffective in improving IAQ especially in sensitive
buildings (e.g. hospitals, schools) located in the proximity of highly trafficked roads or near otherwise
polluted areas.
In the particular case reported in this paper, the
main purpose of the work was to determine the optimum height above ground of the HVAC air feed grid
of a specific urban office building, necessary to minimize the influence of local automotive pollution on
indoor air contamination. Measurement of the concentration difference between ground and higher
levels within building height of air pollutants in urban
atmosphere tracing different classes of airborne contaminants contributed to a toxicologically-oriented
rational advice, i.e. to evaluate the improvement of
indoor air quality in terms of a reduced exposure of
building occupants to urban airborne toxicants
brought indoors by the ventilation system. The
maximum decrease of the concentration of airborne


F. M. RUBINO et al.

pollutants is measured over the first 1020 m, while it

results negligible from the practical point of view
above this height. This observation suggests that interventions aiming at improvement of air quality at
the feed point in existing building HVAC systems
through an upper displacement of the air feed grid
may be justified by a reduction in the concentration of
airborne pollutants only within 20 m from street level,
at most. On the contrary, raising the air feed point
to much higher levels, as would be the roof of a
100 m-building would not yieldif ever technically
feasible and financially sustainable in the refurbishing of existing building HVAC systemsany
incremental advantage from the point of view of
improving IAQ.
The latest release of Milans regulatory guidelines
for building hygiene, issued in 1995 (Regolamento
Municipale di Igiene, Titolo III), requires 6 m as the
minimum height from ground for installing HVAC
feed grids facing outwards, and only 3 m for those
facing towards internal courtyards devoid of localized
pollution sources. Although the 6 m height may be an
improvement over past situations (in which most
often air feed was accomplished with grids from
underneath the pedestrian sidewalks, since for
architectural reasons air handling units are nearly
always in underground spaces), our observations on
the extent of air pollutant stratification in the
lower urban atmosphere suggest that the required
height may not always be sufficient to minimize the
influence of outdoor air pollution on indoor air
quality, and that, at least where possible, the height of
the feed grids should be increased to the highest
available position within approximately 20 m from
ground. Moreover, due to the hardly predictable dependance of the extent of pollutant dilution from
factors such as building position with respect to
sources and local urban landscaping, the switch
from a prescriptive to a preformational approach in
regulatory guidelines may prove more effective in
determining the most effective grid position on a caseto-case basis.
(c) Selection of the chemical parameters for outdoor/indoor air quality monitoring
The parameters for evaluation of the chemical quality of urban air with reference to indoor air quality
studies may, in principle, be selected among those
already employed for general regulatory purposes.
Due to its simple and specific analytical determination with infrared-based continuous gas monitors and
to the close association observed between the time
profile of its concentration and those of organic automotive-produced pollutant vapours (e.g. Guerra et al.,
1995; Dor et al., 1995), CO is considered a viable
surrogate analyte for the general-purpose regulatory
monitoring of urban air quality, although its levels in
the urban atmosphere are far lower than those yielding immediate health threat even under high-pollution conditions. As demonstrated above, CO is also

a suitable tracer of the influence of urban environmental air pollution on the chemical air quality in
indoor spaces.
Since airborne organic vapours of automotive origin are within the toxicologically most relevant products of urban pollution from the point of view of
public health concern (Bostroem et al., 1994; Kagawa,
1994; Vostal, 1994; Hall, 1996), it may be also of
interest to obtain complementary information on the
behaviour of heavier molecular weight air pollutants,
such as volatile organics or airborne particulate: one
purpose would be a more detailed knowledge on the
persistence of the effects of fugitive pollutant emissions on the local scale, e.g. those due to startup of
engines, especially in confined outdoor spaces such as
courtyards. Aromatic compounds are crucial analytical targets to this regard, since at least some of them
are of recognized toxicological significance and, recently, regulatory monitoring of non-conventional
pollutants, such as airborne benzene, has been introduced in Italy as a further parameter to this regard
(Italian Parlament Decree No 285, 30 April 1992;
Italian Law No 146, 12 April 1995). The mixture of
airborne aromatic hydrocarbons (benzene, toluene,
ethylbenzene, xylenes; BTEX) may represent the
heavier component in the overall blend of organic
pollutant vapours in urban atmosphere. However, the
choice of suitable parameters for the measurement of
airborne organics with PAS-IR is a less straightforward task than selection of CO as a general-purpose
urban air quality tracer. The instrumental selectivity
of this analytical technique towards individual compounds or narrow compound classes is far from being
optimal and may suffer from (sometimes severe) interference from the more abundant organic constituents
of urban atmosphere. This limitation therefore constrains the interpretation of organics PAS-IR data to
a qualitative comparison level between different situations (e.g. indoor/outdoor; HVAC-on/HVAC-off).
However, due to the dynamic nature (both in time and
in space) of air pollution phenomena, this instrumental limitation may be, at least in part, traded-off by the
continuous monitoring and multipoint sampling features of the equipment, which would be outside the
possibility of the traditional investigation techniques
for airborne organics, based on enrichment sampling
and high-specificity off-line analysis (e.g. by chromatographic techniques). Therefore, measurement of
TAOC by PAS-IR may be considered as a continuous
analogue of the more commonly employed NMHC or
VOC chemical air quality parameters, which are most
often obtained as a point or time-averaged measurements. Another analytical advantage of TAOC
measurement in IAQ studies is its far higher sensitivity to higher molecular weight volatile organics
(which are released in closed environments either as
constituents of bio-effluents or from several indoor
pollution sources) than to the lower-mass ones (which
are the most abundant components of the airborne
organics mixture).

Concentration gradients in urban atmosphere


From a general point of view, our work contributes

to emphasize the role coveredwithin the frame of
studies aimed at improving the overall quality of
buildings indoor airby a detailed knowledge of the
space and time distribution of environmental airborne
pollutants in urban air. Such information may be
employed to assist local-scale intervention for minimizing the influence of automotive-produced pollution
on the quality of urban air at the feed point of buildings HVAC systemsespecially in the proximity of
sensitive ones, such as hospitals and schools. It should
nevertheless be reminded that intervention on
a single-building scale, such as that reported, should
be limited to otherwise unmanageable situations, and
not be considered as an alternative to urban-scale
improvement of air quality, e.g. through a reduction
of air pollution loads, or by proper routing of automotive traffic, or with an extensive use of landscapemodifying elements, such as green fencing (Golany,
AcknowledgementsThis work was performed under Grant
No 1246 D.G.R. V/41795/93 from Regione Lombardia
(Italy). The authors are grateful to the technical personnel of
CEMOC (Drs G. Bernazzani and G. Bocchi) and of Regione
Lombardia (Geom. S. DAmbrosio and Mr L. Martegani) for
experimental assistance.


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