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Passive sampling

Passive sampling (diffusive sampling) onto sorbent media uses the principle of Fick’s First law of Diffusion to target known sample environments. Here analytes migrate to the surface of a sorbent bed at a rate dependent on conditions including: the geometry of the sampler, the air gap between the front surface of the sorbent and the sample environment, and the time of exposure.


Passive sampling is used when studying known compounds, and quantitation is possible using validated uptake rates. The technique is widely used for monitoring personal exposure, for large-scale environmental studies, and for indoor air monitoring.

There are two approaches to tube-based passive sampling: axial passive sampling and radial passive sampling. These are explored in Application Note 008, The theory and practice of diffusive monitoringAnd in our blog Passive sampling and its pivotal role in greener sampling of VOCs.

Passive sampling is central to a number of important standard methods, including:

  • US EPA 325, in which passive samplers are deployed around the perimeter of an industrial site. Tubes are housed in robust, weather-proof hoods containing up to five tubes, with a typical sampling period of 3 – 28 days.
  • ISO16017-2, which uses passive sampling for sampling and analysis of VOCs in indoor, ambient and workplace air.

Benefits of passive sampling

  • No power source is required, so it can be used for long-term, time-weighted-average monitoring for determining exposure levels in line with occupational health guidance.
  • Supplies are easy to transport and use, and suitable for a wide range of common volatile organic air pollutants.
  • When used in personal exposure monitoring, passive samplers are silent and unobtrusive.
  • When used in environmental air monitoring, their relatively low cost makes them suitable for large-scale deployment.