Airborne particles generated from the burning of incense have been characterized in order to gain an insight into the possible implications for human respiratory health. Physical characterization performed using field-emission scanning electron microscopy showed incense particulate smoke mainly consisted of soot particles with fine and ultrafine fractions in various aggregated forms. A range of organic compounds present in incense smoke have been identified using derivatisation reactions coupled with gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis. A total of 19 polar organic compounds were positively identified in the samples, including the biomass burning markers levoglucosan, mannosan and galactosan, as well as a number of aromatic acids and phenols. Formaldehyde was among 12 carbonyl compounds detected and predominantly associated with the gas phase, whereas six different quinones were also identified in the incense particulate smoke. The nano-structured incense soot particles intermixed with organics (e.g. formaldehyde and quinones) could increase the oxidative capacity. When considering the worldwide prevalence of incense burning and resulting high respiratory exposures, the oxygenated organics identified in this study have significant human health implications, especially for susceptible populations.
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