Research from several years ago uncovered the connection between over-charring meat which releases harmful compounds called PAHs and HCAs, causing oxidative damage to our cells. It seems that along with those considerations about overcooking meat, there are also byproducts of regular cooking that affect our air quality.
These byproducts of regular cooking are called organic aerosols. What makes these organic aerosols interesting is that they are capable of staying around in the air for many days after being released. The aerosols are formed when fatty acids (usually oleic acid) are released by cooking, and they form films which make tiny structures inside the droplets which have been aerosolized.
It may not seem like these small aerosols make a difference in air quality, but up to 10% of the particulate matter in the UK comes from these organic aerosols. Scientists concerned with air pollution have known about these aerosols for quite a while—but exactly how they impact climate change is a focus now. By studying how these films form nanostructures which resist being broken down and then find their way to the ozone layer, they hope to find a way to quantify how much of an impact on global emissions is due to cooking.
It’s clear that we can’t avoid cooking, but these molecules affect the other types of atmospheric particulate matter with which they come into contact. Urban areas which already have a large amount of other types of particulate matter may be more impacted by these organic aerosols because they form semi-solid coatings around the more harmful types of particles, like PAHs.
Understanding how these organic constituents of the atmosphere can self-organize themselves into extra layers and coatings is an insight into the contributing factors of pollution.
Adam Milsom, Adam M. Squires, Andrew D. Ward, Christian Pfrang. The impact of molecular self-organisation on the atmospheric fate of a cooking aerosol proxy. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 2022; 22 (7): 4895 DOI: 10.5194/acp-22-4895-2022