Researchers Have Found Highly Reactive Trioxides That May Pose a Danger to Human Health
Scientists have discovered highly reactive chemical compounds that form under natural atmospheric conditions but could pose a threat to human health and the environment. While the existence of these compounds – called trioxides and made up of three oxygen atoms linked together – had been theorized, researchers from the University of Copenhagen confirmed their presence in the air in an article published Thursday in the science journal.
Trioxides are extremely flammable and explosive. They are formed by the atmospheric breakdown of common substances emitted into the atmosphere, such as isoprene and dimethyl sulfide – in fact”of almost all chemical compounds“, according to co-author Jing Chen. Created by reactions between two types of radicals, they persist from minutes to hours, during which time they can react with other compounds in the air.
Meanwhile, the newly discovered chemicals are likely to enter aerosols, which are tiny airborne particles, and could lead to health risks leading to cardiovascular and respiratory disease, the researchers observed. New compounds that form when trioxides combine with aerosols have not been studied and their effects on humans are not known.
Additionally, the researchers noted that the trioxides could influence the number of aerosol particles produced. This could potentially impact certain aspects of climate, such as the amount of sunlight reflected back into space or absorbed by cloud formation, which in turn affects the temperature on earth.
While study co-author Kristan Moller noted that “most human activities release chemicals into the atmosphere“, his co-author Eva Kjaergaard pointed out that the newly discovered compounds were not themselves a new arrival in the atmosphere, stating “these compounds have been around forever – we just didn’t know about them.”
The researchers are therefore not worried, despite the potential dangers posed by their discovery. Instead, they see it as an opportunity. “The fact that we now have evidence that the compounds form and live for a period of time means that it is possible to study their effect in a more targeted way and to react if they prove to be dangerous.explained lead author Henrik Kjaergaard.
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Trioxides – specifically hydrotrioxides, the type of chemical that university researchers have mostly discovered – exist in concentrations of 10 million per cubic centimeter in the atmosphere, or about one-tenth the concentration of hydroxyl radicals (OH), which are considered one of the most important atmospheric agents. oxidants and are present at 1 million particles per cubic centimeter. According to the researchers, up to 1% of all isoprene – one of the most commonly emitted organic compounds – released into the atmosphere breaks down into hydrotrioxides.
“The discovery suggests there could be plenty more in the air that we don’t yet know about“, observed Chen, insisting that “as researchers, we must keep an open mind if we want to improve in finding solutions.”
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