Urban Organic Aerosol Exposure: Spatial Variations in Composition and Source Impacts

Environ Sci Technol. 2018 Jan 16;52(2):415-426. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.7b03674. Epub 2017 Dec 22.


We conducted a mobile sampling campaign in a historically industrialized terrain (Pittsburgh, PA) targeting spatial heterogeneity of organic aerosol. Thirty-six sampling sites were chosen based on stratification of traffic, industrial source density, and elevation. We collected organic carbon (OC) on quartz filters, quantified different OC components with thermal-optical analysis, and grouped them based on volatility in decreasing order (OC1, OC2, OC3, OC4, and pyrolyzed carbon (PC)). We compared our ambient OC concentrations (both gas and particle phase) to similar measurements from vehicle dynamometer tests, cooking emissions, biomass burning emissions, and a highway traffic tunnel. OC2 and OC3 loading on ambient filters showed a strong correlation with primary emissions while OC4 and PC were more spatially homogeneous. While we tested our hypothesis of OC2 and OC3 as markers of fresh source exposure for Pittsburgh, the relationship seemed to hold at a national level. Land use regression (LUR) models were developed for the OC fractions, and models had an average R2 of 0.64 (SD = 0.09). The paper demonstrates that OC2 and OC3 can be useful markers for fresh emissions, OC4 is a secondary OC indicator, and PC represents both biomass burning and secondary aerosol. People with higher OC exposure are likely inhaling more fresh OC2 and OC3, since secondary OC4 and PC varies much less drastically in space or with local primary sources.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols
  • Air Pollutants*
  • Carbon
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Particulate Matter*


  • Aerosols
  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter
  • Carbon