Novel technique paves way for measuring indoor air pollutants

Scientists have indicated that a new approach for checking the accuracy of measurements of hazardous indoor air pollutants may soon be ready for prime time.

The promising approach was reported by the researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Virginia Tech.

The measurement tool, a reference sample for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), would be a boon to testers of indoor air quality and to manufacturers of paints, rugs, cleaners and other building products.

The researchers put their innovation—thin squares of plastic saturated with vapors of a common solvent—through the paces at four testing laboratories.

The prototype test material, made at Virginia Tech, yielded measurement results more accurate than those previously achieved in more costly and time-consuming interlaboratory studies using less standardized materials.

In the initial trial, they prepared two batches of their sample material—thin films of polymethyl pentane, a plastic used in gas-permeable packaging, saturated with toluene, a common VOC found in paint and other products. A mathematical model developed by the research team is used to accurately predict rates of emission from the sample over time.

The preliminary multi-laboratory tests showed that the prototype reference material is uniform in composition and sufficiently stable and that rates of VOC emissions within and between production batches are consistent.

The researchers concluded that their prototype could reduce inter-laboratory variability in results to less than 10 percent—much better than current methods.

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