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Elucidating multipollutant exposure across a complex metropolitan area by systematic deployment of a mobile laboratory

Levy I., Mihele C., Lu G., Narayan J., Hilker N., Brook J.R.

This study evaluates a deployment strategy of a heavily instrumented mobile lab for characterizing multipollutant spatial patterns based upon a limited number of measurement days spread over different seasons. The measurements obtained through this deployment strategy are used to gain insight into average pollutant levels between routine monitoring sites and in relation to emission sources in the region, as well as to assess correlations between pollutant patterns to better understand the nature of urban air pollutant mixtures. A wide range of locations were part of the deployment in order to characterize the distribution of chronic exposures potentially allowing development of exposure models. Comparison of the mobile lab averages to the available adjacent air quality monitoring network stations to evaluate their representativeness showed that they were in reasonable agreement with the annual averages at the monitoring sites, thus providing some evidence that, through the deployment approach, the mobile lab is able to capture the main features of the average spatial patterns. The differences between mobile lab and network averages varied by pollutant with the best agreement for NO2 with a percentage difference of 20%. Sharp differences in the average spatial distribution were found to exist between different pollutants on multiple scales, particularly on the sub-urban scale, i.e., the neighborhood to street scales. For example, NO2 was observed to be 210–265% higher by the main highway in the study region compared to the nearby urban background monitoring site, while black carbon was higher by 180–200% and particle number concentration was 300% higher. The repeated measurements of near-roadway gradients showed that the rate of change differed by pollutant with elevated concentrations detected up to 600–700 m away for some pollutants. These results demonstrate that through systematic deployment mobile laboratory measurements can be used to characterize average or typical concentration patterns, thus providing data to assess monitoring site representativeness, spatial relationships between pollutants, and chronic multipollutant exposure patterns useful for evaluating and developing exposure models for outdoor concentrations in an urban environment.