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Once the cigarettes were ‘smoked’, the butts and half-smoked extinguished cigarettes were put into a walk-in chamber of stainless steel to measure if any pollutants were being given off by extinguished butts, and if so, how much in relation to an actively smoking cigarette. Their aim was to see how cigarette butts, basically used cigarette filters, affected the environment. They also included measurements under different temperatures, humidity levels and water saturations.
Researcher Dustin Poppendieck explains, “If you have ever sat on a park bench when somebody next to you smoked, then they got up and left their cigarette butt behind, that odor you were smelling is indicative of what we are trying to capture and measure.”
The team measured the levels of 8 common chemicals usually present in cigarette smoke. These are just a few of the hundreds of toxins and chemicals found in this substance. 4 of the 8 are listed as harmful or potentially harmful by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In addition, the scientists measured triacetin levels. The presence of triacetin, which is not very volatile, in the filter, means its presence in emissions typically means the emission has been going on for a long time and in cold conditions. The findings
The team found that in just one day, a used cigarette butt emits up to 14% of the nicotine produced by a burning cigarette. And if the day was hot, the emissions were still higher.
“I was absolutely surprised,” said Poppendieck. “The numbers are significant and could have important impacts when butts are disposed of indoors or in cars.”
Of the 8 chemicals measured, most were not being emitted at measurable levels after the first 24 hours. The prominent exceptions were nicotine and triacetin. These were present at about half of their initial concentrations even after 5 days had passed. What his team found, however, was that a used butt — one that is cold to the touch — can in one day give off the equivalent of up to 14% of the nicotine that an actively burning cigarette emits. Credit: N. Hanacek/NIST
When they compared the emissions to those found in mainstream or sidestream smoking, they found they were quite comparable. The researchers say that if you leave butts in an ashtray lying around at home, or even worse, inside a hot car, for a week or more, non-smokers and children around you could be significantly exposed to cigarette smoke – even though you never smoke inside the house or car.
These emissions are being looked at for the first time, but their impact could be very challenging. Anti-littering organizations already ask people to avoid throwing butts out of car windows because of the long period required for them to break down. But nobody quite knows what to do with them.
Poppendieck says they could be stored in glass or metal containers with some sand, and sealed, in preference to leaving them exposed. This would noticeably prevent emissions. Source:
Butt Emissions: Study Finds Even Extinguished Cigarettes Give Off Toxins - https://www.nist.gov/news-events/news/2020/01/butt-emissions-study-finds-even-extinguished-cigarettes-give-toxins Journal references:
M. Gong, N. Daniels, D. Poppendieck. Measurement of chemical emission rates from cigarette butts into air. Indoor Air. Available online in preprint format on Jan. 18, 2020. DOI: 10.1111/ina.12648
D. Poppendieck, M. Gong, V. Pham. Influence of temperature, relative humidity, and water saturation on airborne emissions from cigarette butts. Science of the Total Environment. Available online Jan. 5, 2020. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.136422
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