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  5. Detection of Volatile Organic Compounds in Odors from Plastics

A study says, the production of plastic in 2014 was whooping 311 million metric tons, 4% higher than the previous year’s. And as economies are expanding day by day, the demand and the usage of plastic is growing rapidly each year. Plastic has already replaced materials like wood, glass and metal, precisely with the convenience plastic-made products provide. This has enhanced the usage of plastic from packaging of durable products to the packaging of perishable products, to children’s toys, lunch boxes, mobile covers to poly bags to more and more products. But is plastic safe?

All chemical substances have divergent odors which can be identified by the sense of smell at a particular concentration. Plastic also has a specific odor profile and at times it is very hard to eliminate the residual odors left by its contents. In fact, each recycling procedure slacks off the quality of plastic in a consistent manner. Plastic also contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and the presence of plastic containing VOCs could create highly dangerous levels inside the houses. Whilst this causes a little trouble in outdoor settings. VOCs are ubiquitous and evaporate at room temperature very easily. Hence, carry a strong potential of posing a serious health risk if kept in contact for a long-term. Many VOCs are known to cause cancer and can severely affect the immune system, kidneys, and other organs. Immediate symptoms of VOC exposure can include respiratory problems, nausea, headaches, fatigue, and dizziness. Also, the health problems caused by VOC exposure vary widely depending on the type of chemical and degree of exposure.

Hence, the presence of VOCs in plastic could lead to severe crisis, which establishes the demand of a proficient way to detect the existence of VOCs in odors from plastic. A technique that could be used by the manufacturing companies for testing the quality of plastic used in various products, before it reaches consumers.  It might interest you that such technique is already present in the market in the form of various electronic noses that can satiate certain requirements. Generally, conventional electronic noses, using dissimilar and unspecified chemical sensors produce perceptible response patterns and have limited performance because of overlapping responses and physical instability. Also, eNoses cannot separate or quantify the chemistry of odors.

But EST Inc.’s zNose® is a new type of electronic nose that employs a proprietary Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW) sensor and ultra-fast Gas Chromatography (GC) technology to separate vapor samples according to their chemical and physical properties. This portable electronic nose is a useful tool for quantifying the concentration of volatile organic compounds in odors produced by plastic objects. Also, it can perform the analyzing process in just a minute after the sample is injected in it. The fast response of the instrument also qualifies it as an electronic nose that has stable sensors which do not drift and do not require constant calibration.

By combining SAW detectors with high-speed temperature programmed chromatographic columns, specificity over a wide range of vapors at the part per billion level in near real time (1 minute) has been achieved. The GC/SAW offers the advantages of a low-cost solid state detector and the specificity of a temperature programmed GC column.

Sampling Vapors from Plastics at Room Temperature & at Higher Temperature

zNose®’s gas detection VOC capabilities can easily analyze vapors from plastics at the room temperature. And as far as sampling vapors from plastics at higher temperature is concerned, the higher vapor concentrations produced by elevating the temperature of the plastic samples can be measured with greater precision than measurements taken at room temperature. During a testing procedure, temperature of 60℃ was kept and was maintained for 10 minutes prior to sampling headspace vapors with the zNose®. Using two samples, zNose® easily detected the sample responsible for the distinctive odor.

Provides Olfactory Images

zNose® provides high-resolution two-dimensional olfactory images along with overspread chromatograms, allowing complex odor chemistry to be quickly identified and compared. Olfactory images can be plotted using linear odor intensity or logarithmic odor intensity and can be absolute or relative to the highest chemical concentration. The derivative of odor intensity yields chromatograms which can then be overlaid for more detailed comparisons.

Hence, EST Inc.’s zNose® is a good option to be used as a quality control tool to either test plastic production processes or to screen plastic parts for their presence. zNose® has made the quantification of odor chemistry fast and easy. It has consistently proven itself as an efficient and effective volatile organic compound detector in both chemical and petrochemical settings, producing lightning-fast results at up to parts-per-trillion sensitivity. It is used by a wide variety of businesses for its gas detection VOC capabilities, including process control and chemical analysis odor detection from plastics. Unlike trace detectors which only detect a few select compounds, zNose® identify odors and fragrances based upon their full chemical signature. Therefore, zNose® has an immense capability of satiating nearly all the requirements of detecting hazardous volatile organic compounds from the odor of plastics, offering a safe and healthy product to the consumers for usage.


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