Science Inventory

A Comparison of Exposure Metrics for Traffic-Related Air Pollutants: Application to Epidemiology Studies in Detroit, Michigan


Batterman, S., J. Burke, V. Isakov, T. Lewis, B. Mukherjee, AND T. Robins. A Comparison of Exposure Metrics for Traffic-Related Air Pollutants: Application to Epidemiology Studies in Detroit, Michigan. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Molecular Diversity Preservation International, Basel, Switzerland, 11(9):9553-9577, (2014).


The National Exposure Research Laboratory′s (NERL) Human Exposure and Atmospheric Sciences Division (HEASD) conducts research in support of EPA′s mission to protect human health and the environment. HEASD′s research program supports Goal 1 (Clean Air) and Goal 4 (Healthy People) of EPA′s strategic plan. More specifically, our division conducts research to characterize the movement of pollutants from the source to contact with humans. Our multidisciplinary research program produces Methods, Measurements, and Models to identify relationships between and characterize processes that link source emissions, environmental concentrations, human exposures, and target-tissue dose. The impact of these tools is improved regulatory programs and policies for EPA.


Vehicles are major sources of air pollutant emissions, and individuals living near large roads endure high exposures and health risks associated with traffic-related air pollutants. Air pollution epidemiology, health risk, environmental justice, and transportation planning studies would all benefit from an improved understanding of the key information and metrics needed to assess exposures, as well as the strengths and limitations of the various alternatives. Several metrics for characterizing exposure to traffic-related air pollutants were developed for the 218 residential locations of participants in the NEXUS epidemiology study conducted in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. Exposure metrics included proximity to major roads, traffic volume, vehicle mix, traffic density, vehicle exhaust emissions density, and pollutant concentrations predicted by dispersion models. Results presented for each metric include comparisons of exposure distributions, spatial variability, intraclass correlation, concordance and discordance rates, and overall strengths and limitations. While showing some agreement, the simple categorical and proximity classifications (e.g., high diesel/low diesel traffic roads and distance from major roads) do not reflect the range and overlap of exposures seen in the other metrics. Information provided by the traffic density metric, defined as the number of kilometers traveled (VKT) per day within a 300 m buffer around each home, was reasonably consistent with the more sophisticated metrics. Dispersion modeling provided spatially- and temporally-resolved concentrations, along with apportionments that separated concentrations due to traffic emissions and other sources. While several of the exposure metrics showed broad agreement, including traffic density, emissions density and modeled concentrations, these alternatives still produced exposure classifications that differed for a substantial fraction of study participants, suggesting the potential for exposure misclassification and the need for refined and validated exposure metrics. While data and computational demands for dispersion modeling of traffic emissions are non-trivial concerns, once established, dispersion modeling systems can provide exposure information for both on- and near-road environments that would benefit future traffic-related assessments.

Record Details:

Product Published Date: 09/15/2014
Record Last Revised: 11/18/2014
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 294407