Estimating exposure to fine particulate matter emissions from vehicle traffic: Exposure misclassification and daily activity patterns in a large, sprawling region

Environ Res. 2020 Mar;182:108999. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2019.108999. Epub 2019 Dec 4.


Vehicle traffic is responsible for a significant portion of toxic air pollution in urban areas that has been linked to a wide range of adverse health outcomes. Most vehicle air quality analyses used for transportation planning and health effect studies estimate exposure from the measured or modeled concentration of an air pollutant at a person's home. This study evaluates exposure to fine particulate matter from vehicle traffic and the magnitude and cause of exposure misclassification that result from not accounting for population mobility during the day in a large, sprawling region. We develop a dynamic exposure model by integrating activity-based travel demand, vehicle emission, and air dispersion models to evaluate the magnitude, components and spatial patterns of vehicle exposure misclassification in the Atlanta, Georgia metropolitan area. Overall, we find that population exposure estimates increase by 51% when population mobility is accounted for. Errors are much larger in suburban and rural areas where exposure is underestimated while exposure may be overestimated near high volume roadways and in the urban core. Exposure while at work and traveling account for much of the error. We find much larger errors than prior studies, all of which have focused on more compact urban regions. Since many people spend a large part of their day away from their homes and vehicle emissions are known to create "hotspots" along roadways, home-based exposure is unlikely to be a robust estimator of a person's actual exposure. Accounting for population mobility in vehicle emission exposure studies may reveal more effective mitigation strategies, important differences in exposure between population groups with different travel patterns, and reduce exposure misclassification in health studies.

Keywords: Activity-based; Air pollution; Dynamic; Exposure; Vehicle emissions.