Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

A procedure to evaluate the factors determining the elemental composition of PM2.5. Case study: the Veneto region (northeastern Italy)


The Po Valley is one of the most important hot spots in Europe for air pollution. Morphological features and anthropogenic pressures lead to frequent breaching of air quality standards and to high-pollution episodes in an ~46 × 103-km2-wide alluvial lowland. Therefore, it is increasingly important to study the air quality in a wide geographical scale to better implement possible and successful mitigation measures. The Veneto region lies in the eastern part of the Po Valley and the elemental composition of PM has been mainly studied in the Venice area, whereas scarce data are available for the remaining territory of the region. In this study, the elemental composition of PM2.5 was investigated over 1 year (2012–2013) at six major cities of the Veneto region. Samples were analyzed for 16 elements (Ca, Al, Fe, S, K, Mg, Ti, Mn, Zn, Ba, As, Ni, Pb, Sb, V, and Cu), and results were processed to investigate spatial and seasonal variations, the influence of meteorological factors, and the most probable sources by using a procedure based on (i) elemental ratios (Cu/Sb, Cu/Zn, Cu/Pb, Mn/V, V/Ni, and Zn/Pb), (ii) cluster analysis on wind data, and (iii) conditional probability function (CPF). The percentage of elements in PM2.5 ranged between 11 and 20%, and Ca and S were the most abundant elements in the region. Typical seasonal variations and similar trends were exhibited by each element, especially in the lowland. Some elements such as Zn, K, Mn, Pb, and Sb were found at high concentrations during the cold period. However, no similar dispersion processes were observed throughout the region, and their concentrations were mostly depending on individual local sources. In the alpine and foothill parts of the region, lower concentrations were recorded with respect to the Po Valley cities, which resulted enriched of most of the elements considered in this study. The cluster analysis on wind data and the CPF of the ratio-related sources demonstrated that a widespread pollution condition exists in the region, apart from the coastal area. However, specific directions (e.g., a link with high-traffic roads, industrial areas, and airports) resulted the most probable explanation for each ratio-related source. In addition, the Veneto region hosts one of the most important Mediterranean ports for the cruise sector (Venice harbor), and its impact was previously demonstrated in the historical city center. In this study, the impact of Venice shipping emissions was estimated to be 3.5% of PM2.5 in some particular days.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. Agrawal H, Eden R, Zhang X, Fine PM, Katzenstein A, Miller JW, Ospital J, Solomon T, CockerIII DR (2009) Primary particulate matter from ocean-going engine in the Southern California air basin. Environ Sci Technol 43(14):5398–5402.

  2. Amato F, Schaap M, Reche C, Querol X (2013) Road traffic: a major source of particulate matter in Europe. Urban Air Quality in Europe 26:165–193.

  3. Amato F, Viana M, Richard A, Furger M, Prévôt ASH, Nava S, Lucarelli F, Bukowiecki N, Alastuey A, Reche C, Moreno T, Pandolfi M, Pey J, Querol X (2011) Size and time-resolved roadside enrichment of atmospheric particulate pollutants. Atmos Chem Phys 11(6):2917–2931.

  4. Arditsoglou A, Samara C (2005) Levels of total suspended particulate matter and major trace elements in Kosovo: a source identification and apportionment study. Chemosphere 59(5):669–678.

  5. ARPAV (Environmental Protection Agency of Veneto Region) (2015) Indagine sul consumo domestico di biomasse legnose in Veneto: risultati dell’indagine campionaria e stima delle emissioni in atmosfera, p 35 [in italian]. Available at:

  6. ARPAV (2011) Metalli e metalloidi nei suoli del Veneto determinazione dei valori di fondo Pp 188 (in italian)

  7. Ashbaugh II, Malm WC, Sadeh WZ (1985) A residence time probability analysis of sulfur concentrations at Grand Canyon National Park. Atmos Environ 19(8):1263–1270.

  8. Ayrault S, Senhou A, Moskura M, Gaudry A (2010) Atmospheric trace element concentrations in total suspended particles near Paris, France. Atmos Environ 44(30):3700–3707.

  9. Barmpadimos I, Keller J, Oderbolz D, Hueglin C, Prévôt ASH (2012) One decade of parallel fine (PM2.5) and coarse (PM10–PM2.5) particulate matter measurements in Europe: trends and variability. Atmos Chem Phys 12(7):3189–3203.

  10. Belis CA, Karagulian F, Larsen BR, Hopke PK (2013) Critical review and meta-analysis of ambient particulate matter source apportionment using receptor models in Europe. Atmos Environ 69:94–108.

  11. Bell ML, Ebisu K, Peng RD, Samet JM, Dominici F (2009) Hospital admissions and chemical composition of fine particle air pollution. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 179(12):1115–1120.

  12. Boman C, Öhman M, Nordin A (2006) Trace element enrichment and behavior in wood pellet production and combustion processes. Energy Fuel 20(3):993–1000.

  13. Bove MC, Brotto P, Cassola F, Cuccia E, Massabò D, Mazzino A, Piazzalunga A, Prati P (2008) An integrated PM2.5 source apportionment study: positive matrix factorisation vs. the chemical transport model CAMx. Atmos Environ 94:274–286

  14. Brito J, Rizzo LV, Herckes P, Vasconcellos PC, Caumo SES, Fornaro A, Ynoue RY, Artaxo P, Andrade MF (2013) Physical-chemical characterisation of the particulate matter inside two road tunnels in the São Paulo metropolitan area. Atmos Chem Phys 13(24):12199–12213.

  15. Bukowiecki N, Lienemann P, Hill M, Furger M, Richard A, Amato F, Prévôt ASH, Baltensperger U, Buchmann B, Gehrig R (2010) PM10 emission factors for non-exhaust particles generated by road traffic in an urban street canyon and along a freeway in Switzerland. Atmos Environ 44(19):2330–2340.

  16. Celo V, Dabek-Zlotorzynska E (2010) Concentration and source origin of trace metals in PM2.5 collected at selected Canadian sites within the Canadian National Air Pollution Surveillance Program. Urban Airborne Particulate Matter, Environmental Science and Engineering, edited by Zereini F., Wiseman C L.S., Springer–Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 19–38

  17. Cesari D, Genga A, Ielpo P, Siciliano M, Mascolo G, Grasso FM, Contini D (2014) Source apportionment of PM2.5 in the harbour–industrial area of Brindisi (Italy): identification and estimation of the contribution of in-port ship emissions. Sci Tot Environ 497–498:392–400

  18. Chandrasekaran SR, Hopke PK, Rector L, Allen G, Lin L (2012) Chemical composition of wood chips and wood pellets. Energy Fuel 26(8):4932–4937.

  19. Chen B, Stein AF, Guerrero Maldonado P, Sànchez de la Campa AM, Gonzalez-Castanedo Y, Castell N, de la Rosa JD (2013) Size distribution and concentrations of heavy metals in atmospheric aerosols originating from industrial emissions as predicted by the HYSPLIT model. Atmos Environ 71:234–244.

  20. Contini D, Belosi F, Gambaro A, Cesari D, Stortini AM, Bove MC (2012) Comparison of PM10 concentrations and metal content in three different sites of the Venice Lagoon: an analysis of possible aerosol sources. J Environ Sci 24(11):1954–1965.

  21. Darby L (2005) Cluster analysis of surface winds in Houston, Texas, and the impact of wind patterns on ozone. J Appl Meteorol 44(12):1788–1806.

  22. Dongarrà G, Manno E, Varrica D (2009) Possible markers of traffic-related emissions. Environ Monit Assess 154(1-4):117–125.

  23. EEA (European Environment Agency) (2017) AirBased: the European Air Quality Database. (accessed February 2017)

  24. Furuyama Y, Fujita H, Taniike A, Kitamura A (2011) Ion beam analyses of particulate matter in exhaust gas of a ship diesel engine. Nucl Instrum Methods Phys Res B 269(24):3063–3066.

  25. Gietl JK, Lawrence R, Thorpe AJ, Harrison RM (2010) Identification of brake wear particles and derivation of a quantitative tracer for brake dust at a major road. Atmos Environ 44(2):141–146.

  26. Götschi T, Hazenkamp-von Arx ME, Heinrich J, Bono R, Burney P, Forsberg B, Jarvis D, Maldonado H, Norbäckh D, Stern WB, Sunyer J, Torén K, Verlato G, Villani S, Künzli N (2005) Elemental composition and reflectance of ambient fine particles at 21 European locations. Atmos Environ 39(32):5947–5958.

  27. Harrison RM, Yin J (2010) Chemical speciation of PM2.5 particles at urban background and rural sites in the UK atmosphere. J Environ Monit 12(7):1404–1414.

  28. IARC (2016) Agents classified by the IARC monographs, Volumes 1–116, Website Accessed on 27 Jun 2016 (

  29. Iijima A, Sato K, Yano K, Tago H, Kato M, Kimura H, Furuta N (2007) Particle size and composition distribution analysis of automotive brake abrasion dusts for the evaluation of antimony sources of airborne particulate matter. Atmos Environ 41(23):4908–4919.

  30. Kar K, Maity JP, Samal AC, Santra SC (2010) Metallic components of traffic-induced urban aerosol, their spatial variation, and source apportionment. Environ Monit Assess 168(1-4):561–574.

  31. Kaufmann P, Whiteman CD (1999) Cluster-analysis classification of wintertime wind patterns in the Grand Canyon region. J Appl Meteorol 38(8):1131–1147.<1131:CACOWW>2.0.CO;2

  32. Khan MB, Masiol M, Formenton G, Di Gilio A, de Gennaro G, Agostinelli C, Pavoni B (2016) Carbonaceous PM2.5 and secondary organic aerosol across the Veneto region (NE Italy). Sci Tot Environ 542(Pt A):172–181.

  33. Kong S, Ji Y, Lu B, Chen L, Han B, Li Z, Bai Z (2011) Characterization of PM10 source profiles for fugitive dust in Fushun—a city famous for coal. Atmos Environ 45(30):5351–5365.

  34. Lawrence S, Sokhi R, Ravindra K, Mao H, Douglas Prain H, Bull ID (2013) Source apportionment of traffic emissions of particulate matter using tunnel measurements. Atmos Environ 77:548–557.

  35. Masiol M, Rampazzo G, Ceccato D, Squizzato S, Pavoni B (2010) Characterization of PM10 sources in a coastal area near Venice (Italy): an application of factor-cluster analysis. Chemosphere 80(7):771–778.

  36. Masiol M, Squizzato S, Ceccato D, Rampazzo G, Pavoni B (2012a) Determining the influence of different atmospheric circulation patterns on PM10 chemical composition in a source apportionment study. Atmos Environ 63:117–124.

  37. Masiol M, Squizzato S, Ceccato D, Rampazzo G, Pavoni B (2012b) A chemometric approach to determine local and regional sources of PM10 and its geochemical composition in a coastal area. Atmos Environ 54:127–133.

  38. Masiol M, Squizzato S, Rampazzo G, Pavoni B (2014) Source apportionment of PM2.5 at multiple sites in Venice (Italy): spatial variability and the role of weather. Atmos Environ 98:78–88.

  39. Masiol M, Benetello F, Harrison RM, Formenton G, De Gaspari F, Pavoni B (2015) Spatial, seasonal trends and transboundary transport of PM2.5 inorganic ions in the Veneto region (northeastern Italy). Atmos Environ 117:19–31.

  40. Masiol M, Squizzato S, Formenton G, Harrison RM, Agostinelli C (2017) Air quality across a European hotspot: spatial gradients, seasonality, diurnal cycles and trends in the Veneto region, NE Italy. Sci Tot Environ 576:210–224.

  41. Matawle JR, Pervez S, Dewangan S, Shrivastava A, Tiwari S, Pant P, Deb MK, Pervez Y (2015) Characterization of PM2.5 source profiles for traffic and dust sources in Raipur, India. Aerosol Air Qual Res 15:2537–2548

  42. Mazzei F, D’Alessandro A, Lucarelli F, Nava S, Prati P, Valli G, Vecchi R (2008) Characterization of particulate matter sources in an urban environment. Sci Tot Environ 401(1–3):81–89.

  43. Mitra AP, Morawska L, Sharma C, Zhang J (2002) Chapter two: methodologies for characterisation of combustion sources and for quantification of their emissions. Chemosphere 49(9):903–922.

  44. Nawrot TS, Kuenzli N, Sunyer J, Shi T, Moreno T, Viana M, Heinrich J, Forsberg B, Kelly FJ, Sughis M, Nemery B (2009) Oxidative properties of ambient PM2.5 and elemental composition: heterogeneous associations in 19 European cities. Atmos Environ 43(30):4595–4602.

  45. Pandolfi M, Gonzalez-Castanedo Y, Alastuey A, de la Rosa JD, Mantilla E, Sanchez de la Campa A, Querol X, Pey J, Amato F, Moreno T (2011) Source apportionment of PM10 and PM2.5 at multiple sites in the strait of Gibraltar by PMF: impact of shipping emissions. Environ Sci Pollut Res 18(2):260–269.

  46. Pant P, Harrison RM (2013) Estimation of the contribution of road traffic emissions to particulate matter concentrations from field measurements: a review. Atmos Environ 77:78–97.

  47. Pant P, Baker SJ, Shukla A, Maikawa C, Godri Pollitt KJ, Harrison RM (2015) The PM10 fraction of road dust in the UK and India: characterization, source profiles and oxidative potential. Sci Total Environ 530–531:445–452.

  48. Pastorello C, Caserini S, Galante S, Dilara P, Galletti F (2011) Importance of activity data for improving the residential wood combustion emission inventory at regional level. Atmos Environ 45(17):2869–2876.

  49. Pecorari S, Squizzato S, Masiol M, Radice P, Pavoni B, Rampazzo G (2013) Using a photochemical model to assess the horizontal, vertical and time distribution of PM2.5 in a complex area: relationships between the regional and local sources and the meteorological conditions. Sci Total Environ 443:681–691.

  50. Pey J, Querol X, Alastuey A (2010) Discriminating the regional and urban contributions in the north-western Mediterranean: PM levels and composition. Atmos Environ 44(13):1587–1596.

  51. Pulles T, Denier van der Gon H, Appelman W, Verheul M (2012) Emission factors for heavy metals from diesel and petrol used in European vehicles. Atmos Environ 61:641–651.

  52. Puxbaum H, Caseiro A, Sánchez-Ochoa A, Kasper-Giebl A, Claeys M, Gelencsér A, Legrand M, Preunkert S, Pio C (2007) Levoglucosan levels at background sites in Europe for assessing the impact of biomass combustion on the European aerosol background. J Geophys Res 112:D23S05

  53. Qin Y, Chan KC, Chan YL (1997) Characteristics of chemical compositions of atmospheric aerosols in Hong Kong: spatial and seasonal distributions. Sci Tot Environ 206(1):25–37.

  54. Rampazzo G, Masiol M, Visin F, Rampado E, Pavoni B (2008) Geochemical characterization of PM10 emitted by glass factories in Murano, Venice (Italy). Chemosphere 71(11):2068–2075.

  55. Reche C, Viana M, Amato F, Alastuey A, Moreno T, Hillamo R, Teinilä K, Saarnio K, Seco R, Peñuelas J, Mohr C, Prévôt ASH, Querol X (2012) Biomass burning contributions to urban aerosols in a coastal Mediterranean City. Sci Total Environ 427-428:175–190.

  56. Richard A, Gianini MFD, Mohr C, Furger M, Bukowiecki N, Minguillón MC, Lienemann P, Flechsig U, Appel K, DeCarlo PF, Heringa MF, Chirico R, Baltensperger U, Prévôt ASH (2011) Source apportionment of size and time resolved trace elements and organic aerosols from an urban courtyard site in Switzerland. Atmos Chem Phys 11(17):8945–8963.

  57. Rossini P, Guerzoni S, Molinaroli E, Rampazzo G, De Lazzari A, Zancanaro A (2005) Atmospheric bulk deposition to the lagoon of Venice: part I. Fluxes of metals, nutrients and organic contaminants. Environ Int 31(7):959–974.

  58. Rossini P, Matteucci G, Guerzoni S (2010) Atmospheric fall-out of metals around the Murano glass-making district (Venice, Italy). Environ Sci Pollut Res 17(1):40–48.

  59. Sànchez-Rodas D, Sànchez de la Campa AM, de la Rosa JD, Oliveira V, Gómez-Ariza JL, Querol X, Alastuey A (2007) Arsenic speciation of atmospheric particulate matter (PM10) in an industrialised urban site in southwestern Spain. Chemosphere 66(8):1485–1493.

  60. Schauer JJ, Lough GC, Shafer MM, Christensen WC, Arndt MF, DeMinter JT, Park J-S (2006) Characterization of emissions of metals emitted from motor vehicles. Res Report Health Effects Institute 133:1–76

  61. Spokes LJ, Jickells TD, Jarvis K (2001) Atmospheric inputs of trace metals to the Northeast Atlantic Ocean: the importance of southeasterly flow. Mar Chem 76(4):319–330.

  62. Squizzato S, Masiol M, Visin F, Canal A, Rampazzo G, Pavoni B (2014) PM2.5 chemical composition in an industrial zone included in a large urban settlement: main sources and local background. Environ Sci Proc Impacts 16(8):1913–1922.

  63. Squizzato S, Masiol M (2015) Application of meteorology-based methods to determine local and external contributions to particulate matter pollution: a case study in Venice (Italy). Atmos Environ 119:69–81.

  64. Squizzato S, Masiol M, Agostini C, Visin F, Formenton G, Harrison RM, Rampazzo G (2016) Factors, origin and sources affecting PM1 concentrations and composition at an urban background site. Atmos Res 180:262–273.

  65. Sternbeck J, Sjödin Å, Andréasson K (2002) Metal emissions from road traffic and the influence of resuspension—results from two tunnel studies. Atmos Environ 36(30):4735–4744.

  66. Stortini AM, Freda A, Cesari D, Cairns WRL, Contini D, Barbante C, Prodi F, Cescon P, Gambaro A (2009) An evaluation of the PM2.5 trace elemental composition in the Venice Lagoon area and an analysis of the possible sources. Atmos Environ 43(40):6296–6304.

  67. Thomaidis NS, Bakeas EB, Siskos PA (2003) Characterization of lead, cadmium, arsenic and nickel in PM2.5 particles in the Athens atmosphere, Greece. Chemosphere 52(6):959–966.

  68. Thorpe A, Harrison RM (2008) Sources and properties of non-exhaust particulate matter from road traffic: a review. Sci Total Environ 400(1):270–282.

  69. Uria-Tellaetxe I, Carslaw DC (2014) Conditional bivariate probability function for source identification. Environ Model Softw 59:1–9.

  70. Valavanidis A, Fiotakis K, Vlachogianni T (2008) Airborne particulate matter and human health: toxicological assessment and importance of size and composition of particles for oxidative damage and carcinogenic mechanisms. J Environ Sci Health Part C 26(4):339–362.

  71. Viana M, Querol X, Alastuey A, Gil JI, Menéndez M (2006) Identification of PM sources by principal component analysis (PCA) coupled with wind direction data. Chemosphere 65(11):2411–2418.

  72. Viana M, Kuhlbusch TAJ, Querol X, Alastuey A, Harrison RM, Hopke PK, Winiwarter W, Vallius M, Szidat S, Prévôt ASH, Hueglin C, Bloemen H, Wåhlin P, Vecchi R, Miranda AI, Kasper-Giebl A, Maenhaut W, Hitzenberger R (2008) Source apportionment of particulate matter in Europe: a review of methods and results. J Aerosol Sci 39(10):827–849.

  73. Viana M, Amato F, Alastuey A, Querol X, Moreno T, Dos Santos SG, Herce MD, Fernández-Patier R (2009) Chemical tracers of particulate emissions from commercial shipping. Environ Sci Technol 43(19):7472–7477.

  74. Visschedijk AHJ, Denier van der Gon HAC, Hulskotte JHJ, Quass U (2013) Anthropogenic vanadium emissions to air and ambient air concentrations in north-west Europe. E3S Web of Conferences, 1: p. 03004

  75. Weckwerth G (2001) Verification of traffic emitted aerosol components in the ambient air of Cologne (Germany). Atmos Environ 35(32):5525–5536.

  76. WHO (2000) Air quality guidelines for Europe. World Health Organisation: Regional Office for Europe: Copenhagen, p273, ISBN 29 890, 13,583

  77. Wiinikka H, Grönberg C, Boman C (2013) Emissions of heavy metals during fixed-bed combustion of six biomass fuels. Energy Fuel 27(2):1073–1080.

  78. Yatin M, Tuncel S, Aras NK, Olmez I, Aygun S, Tuncel G (2000) Atmospheric trace elements in Ankara, Turkey: 1. factors affecting chemical composition of fine particles. Atmos Environ 34(8):1305–1318.

  79. Zhao M, Zhang Y, Maa W, Fu Q, Yang X, Li C, Zhou B, Yu Q, Chen L (2013) Characteristics and ship traffic source identification of air pollutants in China’s largest port. Atmos Environ 64:277–286.

Download references


This study presents a part of the results obtained in the framework of the agreement between the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and the Regional Agency for Environmental Protection of Veneto (ARPAV; The authors are grateful to ARPAV Centro Meteorologico of Teolo for providing the weather data used in this study.

Author information

Correspondence to Bruno Pavoni.

Ethics declarations


The authors would like to stress that the views expressed in this study do not necessarily correspond to those of ARPAV and are exclusively of their own. Further, this work was not financially supported by any private or public institution.

Additional information

Responsible editor: Gerhard Lammel

Electronic supplementary material


(DOCX 6045 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Benetello, F., Squizzato, S., Masiol, M. et al. A procedure to evaluate the factors determining the elemental composition of PM2.5. Case study: the Veneto region (northeastern Italy). Environ Sci Pollut Res 25, 3823–3839 (2018).

Download citation


  • PM2.5
  • Elements
  • Meteorology
  • Elemental ratios
  • Cluster analysis and CPF