Release of ultrafine particles from three simulated building processes

  • Prashant Kumar
  • Mike Mulheron
  • Claudia Som
Research Paper


Building activities are recognised to produce coarse particulate matter but less is known about the release of airborne ultrafine particles (UFPs; those below 100 nm in diameter). For the first time, this study has investigated the release of particles in the 5–560 nm range from three simulated building activities: the crushing of concrete cubes, the demolition of old concrete slabs, and the recycling of concrete debris. A fast response differential mobility spectrometer (Cambustion DMS50) was used to measure particle number concentrations (PNC) and size distributions (PNDs) at a sampling frequency of 10 Hz in a confined laboratory room providing controlled environment and near–steady background PNCs. The sampling point was intentionally kept close to the test samples so that the release of new UFPs during these simulated processes can be quantified. Tri–modal particle size distributions were recorded for all cases, demonstrating different peak diameters in fresh nuclei (<10 nm), nucleation (10–30 nm) and accumulation (30–300 nm) modes for individual activities. The measured background size distributions showed modal peaks at about 13 and 49 nm with average background PNCs ~1.47 × 104 cm−3. These background modal peaks shifted towards the larger sizes during the work periods (i.e. actual experiments) and the total PNCs increased between 2 and 17 times over the background PNCs for different activities. After adjusting for background concentrations, the net release of PNCs during cube crushing, slab demolition, and ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ recycling events were measured as ~0.77, 19.1, 22.7 and 1.76 (×104) cm−3, respectively. The PNDs were converted into particle mass concentrations (PMCs). While majority of new PNC release was below 100 nm (i.e. UFPs), the bulk of new PMC emissions were constituted by the particles over 100 nm; ~95, 79, 73 and 90% of total PNCs, and ~71, 92, 93 and 91% of total PMCs, for cube crushing, slab demolition, dry recycling and wet recycling, respectively. The results of this study firmly elucidate the release of UFPs and raise a need for further detailed studies and designing health and safety related exposure guidelines for laboratory workplaces and operational building sites.


Ultrafine particles Cement and concrete Building activities Number and mass distributions Construction nanoparticles exposure Environment, health and safety risks Workplace air quality 



The authors thank Mr. Prasana Kunapalan, Mr. Fred Auckland, Mr. Thomas Pagkalis and Mr. Rex Packiyarajah for their help during the laboratory experiments. PK also thanks Drs. Hong Cheng and Vina Kukadia from the Building and Research Establishment (BRE), UK, for providing BRE pollution guide.

Supplementary material

11051_2012_771_MOESM1_ESM.doc (1.7 mb)
Associated content: please see figures s.1–s.5 in supporting information (DOC 1692 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Civil, Chemical and Environmental Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences (FEPS)University of SurreyGuildfordUK
  2. 2.Environmental Flow (EnFlo) Research Centre, FEPSUniversity of SurreyGuildfordUK
  3. 3.Empa, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, Technology and Society LaboratorySt. GallenSwitzerland

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