Phycotoxin-Enriched Sea Spray Aerosols: Methods, Mechanisms, and Human Exposure

Emmanuel Van Acker, Steve Huysman, Maarten De Rijcke, Jana Asselman, Karel A. C. De Schamphelaere, Lynn Vanhaecke, Colin R. Janssen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To date, few studies have examined the role of sea spray aerosols (SSAs) in human exposure to harmful and beneficial marine compounds. Two groups of phycotoxins (brevetoxins and ovatoxins) have been reported to induce respiratory syndromes during harmful algal blooms. The aerosolization and coastal air concentrations of other common marine phycotoxins have, however, never been examined. This study provides the first (experimental) evidence and characterization of the aerosolization of okadaic acid (OA), homoyessotoxin, and dinophysistoxin-1 using seawater spiked with toxic algae combined with the realistic SSA production in a marine aerosol reference tank (MART). The potential for aerosolization of these phycotoxins was highlighted by their 78- to 1769-fold enrichment in SSAs relative to the subsurface water. To obtain and support these results, we first developed an analytical method for the determination of phycotoxin concentrations in SSAs, which showed good linearity (R2 > 0.99), recovery (85.3–101.8%), and precision (RSDs ≤ 17.2%). We also investigated natural phycotoxin air concentrations by means of in situ SSA sampling with concurrent aerosolization experiments using natural seawater in the MART. This approach allowed us to indirectly quantify the (harmless) magnitude of OA concentrations (0.6–51 pg m–3) in Belgium’s coastal air. Overall, this study provides new insights into the enriched aerosolization of marine compounds and proposes a framework to assess their airborne exposure and effects on human health.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6184-6196
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental science & technology
Issue number9
Early online date12 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 04 May 2021


  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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