Errors associated with the use of roadside monitoring in the estimation of acute traffic pollutant-related health effects

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Abstract

Near-road monitoring creates opportunities to provide direct measurement on traffic-related air pollutants and to better understand the changing near-road environment. However, how such observations represent traffic-related air pollution exposures for estimating adverse health effect in epidemiologic studies remains unknown. A better understanding of potential exposure measurement error when utilizing near-road measurement is needed for the design and interpretation of the many observational studies linking traffic pollution and adverse health.

The Dorm Room Inhalation to Vehicle Emission (DRIVE) study conducted near-road measurements of several single traffic indicators at six indoor and outdoor sites ranging from 0.01 to 2.3 km away from a heavily-trafficked (average annual daily traffic over 350,000) highway artery between September 2014 to January 2015. We examined spatiotemporal variability trends and assessed the potential for bias and errors when using a roadside monitor as a primary traffic pollution exposure surrogate, in lieu of more spatially-refined, proximal exposure indicators.

Pollutant levels measured during DRIVE showed a low impact of this highway hotspot source. Primary pollutant species, including NO, CO, and BC declined to near background levels by 20–30 m from the highway source. Patterns of correlation among the sites also varied by pollutant and time of day. NO2, specifically, exhibited spatial trends that differed from other single-pollutant primary traffic indicators. This finding provides some indication of limitations in the use of NO2 as a primary traffic exposure indicator in panel-based health effect studies. Interestingly, roadside monitoring of NO, CO, and BC tended to be more strongly correlated with sites, both near and far from the road, during morning rush hour periods, and more weakly correlated during other periods of the day. We found pronounced attenuation of observed changes in health effects when using measured pollutant from the near-road monitor as a surrogate for true exposure, and the magnitude varied substantially over the course of the day. Caution should be taken when using near-road monitoring network observations, alone, to investigate health effects of traffic pollutants.

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