Particulate organic emissions from incense-burning smoke: Chemical compositions and emission characteristics

Kai Song, Rongzhi Tang*, Ang Li, Zichao Wan, Yuan Zhang, Yuanzheng Gong, Daqi Lv, Sihua Lu, Yu Tan, Shichao Yan, Shichao Yan, Jingshun Zhang, Baoming Fan, Chak K. Chan, Song Guo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Incense burning is a common practice in Asian cultures, releasing hazardous particulate organics. Inhaling incense smoke can result in adverse health effects, yet the molecular compositions of incense-burning organics have not been well investigated due to the lack of measurement of intermediate-volatility and semi-volatile organic compounds (I/SVOCs). To elucidate the detailed emission profile of incense-burning particles, we conducted a non-target measurement of organics emitted from incense combustion. Quartz filters were utilized to trap particles, and organics were analyzed by a comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography-mass spectrometer (GC × GC–MS) coupled with a thermal desorption system (TDS). To deal with the complex data obtained by GC × GC–MS, homologs are identified mainly by the combination of selected ion chromatograms (SICs) and retention indexes. SICs of 58, 60, 74, 91, and 97 were utilized to identify 2-ketones, acids, fatty acid methyl esters, fatty acid phenylmethyl esters, and alcohols, respectively. Phenolic compounds contribute the most to emission factors (EFs) among all chemical classes, taking up 24.5 % ± 6.5 % of the total EF (96.1 ± 43.1 μg g−1). These compounds are largely derived from the thermal degradation of lignin. Biomarkers like sugars (mainly levoglucosan), hopanes, and sterols are extensively detected in incense combustion fumes. Incense materials play a more important role in shaping emission profiles than incense forms. Our study provides a detailed emission profile of particulate organics emitted from incense burning across the full-volatility range, which can be used in the health risk assessments. The data processing procedure in this work could also benefit those with less experience in non-target analysis, especially GC × GC–MS data processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number165319
JournalScience of The Total Environment
StatePublished - Nov 1 2023


  • GC × GC
  • Homologs
  • Incense burning
  • Particles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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