Artificial ultra-fine aerosol tracers for highway transect studies

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The persistent evidence of health impacts of roadway aerosols requires extensive information for urban planning to avoid putting populations at risk, especially in-fill projects. The required information must cover both highway aerosol sources as well as transport into residential areas under a variety of roadway configurations, traffic conditions, downwind vegetation, and meteorology. Such studies are difficult and expensive to do, but were easier in the past when there was a robust fine aerosol tracer uniquely tied to traffic - lead. In this report we propose and test a modern alternative, highway safety flare aerosols. Roadway safety flares on vehicles in traffic can provide very fine and ultra-fine aerosols of unique composition that can be detected quantitatively far downwind of roadways due to a lack of upwind interferences. The collection method uses inexpensive portable aerosol collection hardware and x-ray analysis protocols. The time required for each transect is typically 1 h. Side by side tests showed precision at ± 4%. We have evaluated this technique both by aerosol removal in vegetation in a wind tunnel and by tracking aerosols downwind of freeways as a function of season, highway configuration and vegetation coverage. The results show that sound walls for at-grade freeways cause freeway pollution to extend much farther downwind than standard models predict. The elevated or fill section freeway on a berm projected essentially undiluted roadway aerosols at distances well beyond 325 m, deep into residential neighborhoods. Canopy vegetation with roughly 70% cover reduced very fine and ultra-fine aerosols by up to a factor of 2 at distances up to 200 m downwind.




Cahill, T. A., Barnes, D. E., Wuest, L., Gribble, D., Buscho, D., Miller, R. S., & De la Croix, C. (2016). Artificial ultra-fine aerosol tracers for highway transect studies. Atmospheric Environment, 136, 31–42.

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