Spatial analysis of concentrations of multiple air pollutants using NASA DISCOVER-AQ aircraft measurements: Implications for exposure assessment

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In recent years, multipollutant approaches have been employed to investigate the association with health outcomes to better represent real-world conditions than more traditional analysis that considers a single pollutant. With regard to the exposure assessment of a mixture of air pollutants, it is critical to understand the spatial variability in multipollutant relations in order to assess their potential health implications. In this study, we investigated the spatial relations of multiple pollutant concentrations (i.e., NOx, NOy, black carbon, carbon monoxide, acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, toluene, xylenes/ethylbenzene, ozone, water-soluble organic carbon, and aerosol extinction) observed from the P-3B aircraft in the 2011 NASA field campaign in Baltimore/Washington D.C. areas during July 2011. The between-pollutant Pearson correlations and Z-scores (calculated from log-transformed concentrations) between near-highways and non-highways and between near-urban centers and non-urban centers varied by pollutant pair and space. We found generally lower correlations between NOx and other pollutants for near-highways (average r = 0.36) than for non-highways (average r = 0.41) and also for non-urban centers (average r = 0.37) than for near-urban centers (average r = 0.41). This indicated that the temporal associations between NOx and health outcomes might be less affected by other pollutants, which were also related to same health outcomes, for near-highways and non-urban centers. The analysis of between-pollutant Z-scores showed varying spatial relations for popular traffic-related pollutants with the Z-score differences of 0.43 (NOx-carbon monoxide), 0.29 (NOx-black carbon), and 0.17 (black carbon-carbon monoxide) between near-highways and non-highways. This result exhibited heterogeneous traffic-related pollutant mixtures with the proximity to highways, potentially leading to the diverse extent of health associations. Furthermore, a mixed effects model presented pollutant-specific associations between the concentrations and the proximity to highways and urban centers, showing larger declines for NOx, xylenes/ethylbenzene, toluene, and NOy than those for the pollutants related to secondary pollutant formation. The model also demonstrated the different sensitivity of each pollutant to meteorological parameters, which may modify the spatial and temporal variability in the relations between the pollutants. Our findings provide insights for exposure assessment studies to better understand the cumulative health consequences associated with multiple air pollutants simultaneously.

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