Investigations of the proximity effect for pollutants in the indoor environment

J Expo Anal Environ Epidemiol. 1999 Nov-Dec;9(6):602-21. doi: 10.1038/sj.jea.7500057.


More than a dozen indoor air quality studies have reported a large discrepancy between concentrations measured by stationary indoor monitors (SIMs) and personal exposure monitors (PEMs). One possible cause of this discrepancy is a source proximity effect, in which pollutant sources close to the respondent cause elevated and highly variable exposures. This paper describes three sets of experiments in a home using real-time measurements to characterize and quantify the proximity effect relative to a fixed distant location analogous to a SIM. In the first set of experiments, using sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) as a continuously emitting tracer pollutant from a point source, measurements of pollutant concentrations were made at different distances from the source under different air exchange rates and source strengths. A second set of experiments used a continuous point source of carbon monoxide (CO) tracer pollutant and an array of high time resolution monitors to collect simultaneous concentration readings at different locations in the room. A third set of experiments measured particle count density and particle-bound polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentrations emitted from a continuous particle point source (an incense stick) using two particle counters and two PAH monitors, and included human activity periods both before and during the source emission period. Results from the SF6 and CO experiments show that while the source is emitting, a source proximity effect can be seen in the increases in the mean and median and in the variability of concentrations closest to the source, even at a distance of 2.0 m from the source under certain settings of air exchange rate and source strength. CO concentrations at locations near the source were found to be higher and more variable than the predictions of the mass balance model. For particles emitted from the incense source, a source proximity effect was evident for the fine particle sizes (0.3 to 2.5 microm) and particle-bound PAH up to at least 1.0 m from the source. Analysis of spatial and temporal patterns in the data for the three tracer pollutants reveal marked transient elevations of concentrations as seen by the monitor, referred to as "microplumes," particularly at locations close to the source. Mixing patterns in the room show complex patterns and directional effects, as evidenced by the variable intensity of the microplume activity at different locations. By characterizing the spatial and temporal variability of pollutant concentrations in the home, the proximity effect can be quantified, leading to improved indoor monitoring designs and models of human exposure to air pollutants.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / analysis*
  • California
  • Carbon Monoxide / analysis
  • Environmental Monitoring / instrumentation
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Environmental Monitoring / standards*
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Aromatic / analysis
  • Particle Size
  • Sulfur Hexafluoride / analysis
  • Time Factors


  • Air Pollutants
  • Hydrocarbons, Aromatic
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Sulfur Hexafluoride