Publication of ‘Colorimetric Sensing of Volatile Organic Compounds Produced from Heated Cooking Oils’

Publication of ‘Colorimetric Sensing of Volatile Organic Compounds Produced from Heated Cooking Oils’

Dr. Emer Duffy, Science Lead at Allergy Standards Ltd., is the lead author of the recently published, highly relevant paper entitled ‘Colorimetric Sensing of Volatile Organic Compounds Produced from Heated Cooking Oils’ which describes the use of a simple, cost-effective and easy-to-visualise method for the detection of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

What Are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)?

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a diverse group of chemicals present in indoor air that can come from a variety of sources. They can be released from building materials, furnishings, consumer products, scented candles, and from activities like cooking and cleaning.

Impact of VOCs On Health

Exposure to some VOCs can have serious health implications, including eye, nose and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue, dizziness and skin problems. Higher concentrations may cause irritation of the lungs, as well as damage to the liver, kidney, or central nervous system. They are a known trigger of asthma and allergies.

Why and How Are Volatile Organic Compounds from Cooking Oils Measured?

This research is highly relevant as we live in an era when we now spend more than 90% of our time indoors where, according to the EPA, the levels of indoor air pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels.

Measurement of indoor air pollution is an integral part of exposure monitoring and human health risk assessment. Outdoor air has been regulated for decades, but emissions from daily domestic activities may be more dangerous than anyone imagined, yet have not been widely measured or regulated.

Traditional measurement of VOCs rely on high-end instrumentation that provide high quality data, but are expensive and inconvenient making it difficult to measure the exposure pattern of populations.

What is Colorimetric Sensing?

Dr. Duffy’s project involved the development of sensors-‘colorimetric sensing’- for measurement of VOCs in indoor air. The sensors were designed to target priority groups of chemicals including carbonyl compounds which are of particular concern as potential carcinogens.

Simply put, the sensors are made up of small cards printed with dyes which undergo a colour change when they interact with certain groups of chemicals in the air. This colour change can be tracked by taking photos of the sensor and the colours can then be measured using standard image analysis software. A greater colour change correlates with a higher level of VOCs in the air.

The Advantages of Colorimetric Sensing of Volatile Organic Compounds

The paper describes testing VOC emissions from different cooking activities. Cooking is a significant source of indoor air pollution as it emits a wide range of harmful chemicals (including carbonyl compounds) that can persist in the home for many hours.

The sensors developed in this project were capable of distinguishing between different cooking oils and foods based on their unique chemical emissions, and they provided important information on the level of carbonyl compounds released from different cooking activities. Comparison of the sensor results with those from an advanced analytical technique (gas chromatography-mass spectrometry) showed a high correlation, validating the sensor performance and highlighting its suitability for measurement of VOC emissions from cooking.

Standard VOC sensors generally don’t have any selectivity for particular compounds, but rather provide a measure of total VOCs. This measurement does not provide specific information that would be required to understand human exposure to individual chemicals.

Low-cost sensors like those developed in this study have the potential to play a vital role in overcoming this problem. Possible impact areas could include indoor air quality monitoring in private and public buildings, citizen science initiatives and crowdsourcing of air pollution data.


The publication of Dr. Duffy’s work comes at a time when indoor air quality has been catapulted to high priority by world events such as the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, pollen tsunamis and worsening forest wildfires. The paper is an important contribution to much needed research and education into an area that has been traditionally neglected in favour of that into outdoor air quality.

VOCs ASL AcademyBridging the Knowledge Gap

Allergy Standards has identified this knowledge gap around poor indoor air quality and is delighted to be launching a new, cutting edge, educational program on the ASL Academy, an online educational platform delivered through a unique web portal, with the aim to deliver practical solutions to improve the lives of people impacted by asthma and allergies. The expert learning modules, available in the ASL Academy, have been developed by the science and business experts behind the internationally renowned asthma & allergy friendly® Certification Program.

Dr. Duffy’s paper is very pertinent to the ‘In-Home Triggers’ module in the latest learning program in the Academy – the Healthier Homes Awareness (HHA) for Building Professionals, developed in conjunction with the Energy and Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA) and Construction Instruction.  The academic lead for this program will be Dr. John McKeon. Dr McKeon is CEO of Allergy Standards, and is internationally recognised for delivering cutting edge talks and workshops on innovation.

Read more here on the HHA Program at the ASL Academy


About Dr. Emer DuffyDr Emer Duffy ASL Science Lead

Dr. Duffy holds a PhD in chemistry from the University of Tasmania, Australia. She also holds a BSc (Hons) in analytical science from Dublin City University, and a BS in chemistry from the University of Kansas, USA.

Dr. Duffy has significant scientific expertise. Besides her most recent publication detailed above, she also developed non-invasive approaches to study VOCs in human skin and was a frequent invited speaker on the topic at educational workshops and conferences, including the Gordon Research Conference on Skin Barrier Function.

Emer has won several prestigious awards and fellowships during her career, including a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship and the Irish Research Council Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting Award. She currently serves on the management committee of the COST Action Indoor Air Pollution Network.

In her role as Science Lead in Allergy Standards Dr. Duffy is responsible for leading ASL’s science team. She coordinates the company’s research activities, updates and develops the certification standards and oversees ASL’s scientific testing and consultancy work.

Further Reading

Read the published article here  by Emer DuffyEmme Cauven, and Aoife Morrin

Key Words

volatile organic compounds, VOCs, scientific article, colorimetric sensing, health, respiratory system, cooking oils, indoor air quality, indoor environment, pollution, asthma, allergies, triggers, healthy homes.

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