Critique of the Use of Deposition Velocity in Modeling Indoor Air Quality
Among the potential fates of indoor air pollutants are a variety of physical and chemical interactions with indoor surfaces. In deterministic mathematical models of indoor air quality, these interactions are usually represented as a first-order loss process, with the loss rate coefficient given as the product of the surface-to-volume ratio of the room times a deposition velocity. In this paper, the validity of this representation of surface-loss mechanisms is critically evaluated. From a theoretical perspective, the idea of a deposition velocity is consistent with the following representation of an indoor air environment. Pollutants are well-mixed throughout a core region which is separated from room surfaces by boundary layers. Pollutants migrate through the boundary layers by a combination of diffusion (random motion resulting from collisions with surrounding gas molecules), advection (transport by net motion of the fluid), and, in some cases, other transport mechanisms. The rate of pollutant loss to a surface is governed by a combination of the rate of transport through the boundary layer and the rate of reaction at the surface. The deposition velocity expresses the pollutant flux density (mass or moles deposited per area per time) to the surface divided by the pollutant concentration in the core region. This concept has substantial value to the extent that the flux density is proportional to core concentration. Empirically, the problem of human exposure to ozone in commercial buildings has been successfully modeled by using the deposition velocity to parameterize ozone removal onto indoor surfaces. The concept has also been applied in investigations of the indoor dynamics of other pollutant species. However, despite the successful application of this concept, caution is advised in using deposition velocity to characterize pollutant-surface interactions. Limitations that are explored in this paper include these: the presumption of uniform mixing throughout the core region may fail; deposition may vary strongly with position in an enclosure; certain classes of surface-pollutant reactions may not be represented adequately as a first-order loss process; transformation processes within the boundary layer may need to be considered in theoretical investigations; and transport rates through boundary layers may depend strongly on near-surface air flow conditions. Published results from experimental and modeling studies of fine particles, radon decay products, ozone, and nitrogen oxides are used as illustrations of both the strengths and weaknesses of deposition velocity as a parameter to indicate the rate of indoor air pollutant loss on surfaces.