Observation of Road Salt Aerosol Driving Inland Wintertime Atmospheric Chlorine Chemistry

Stephen M. Mcnamara, Katheryn R. Kolesar, Siyuan Wang, Rachel M. Kirpes, Nathaniel W. May, Matthew J. Gunsch, Ryan D. Cook, Jose D. Fuentes, Rebecca S. Hornbrook, Eric C. Apel, Swarup China, Alexander Laskin, Kerri A. Pratt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Inland sources of particulate chloride for atmospheric nitryl chloride (ClNO2) formation remain unknown and unquantified, hindering air quality assessments. Globally each winter, tens of millions of tons of road salt are spread on roadways for deicing. Here, we identify road salt aerosol as the primary chloride aerosol source, accounting for 80-100% of ClNO2 formation, at an inland urban area in the wintertime. This study provides experimental evidence of the connection between road salt and air quality through the production of this important reservoir for nitrogen oxides and chlorine radicals, which significantly impact atmospheric composition and pollutant fates. A numerical model was employed to quantify the contributions of chloride sources to ClNO2 production. The traditional method for simulating ClNO2 considers chloride to be homogeneously distributed across the atmospheric particle population; yet, we show that only a fraction of the particulate surface area contains chloride. Our new single-particle parametrization considers this heterogeneity, dramatically lowering overestimations of ClNO2 levels that have been routinely reported using the prevailing methods. The identification of road salt as a ClNO2 source links this common deicing practice to atmospheric composition and air quality in the urban wintertime environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)684-694
Number of pages11
JournalACS Central Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 27 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering


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