Numerous epidemiological studies have shown health effects related to short- and long-term exposure to elevated levels of ambient particulate matter (PM). It is not clear however which specific characteristics (e.g., size, components) or sources of PM are responsible for the observed effects. The aim of RAPTES (Risk of Airborne Particles: a Toxicological-Epidemiological hybrid Study) was to investigate which specific physical, chemical or oxidative characteristics of ambient PM are associated with adverse effects of PM on health. This was done by performing experimental exposure of human volunteers to air pollution at several real-world settings that had high contrast and low correlation between several PM characteristics. For this goal, eight sites in the Netherlands that differed in local PM emission sources were chosen for extensive air pollution characterization. Measurement sites included an underground train station, three different road traffic sites, an animal farm, a sea harbor, a site located in the vicinity of steelworks, and an urban background site. Five- to six-hours average concentration measurements at each site were made between June 2007 and October 2009. We measured PM10, PM2.5, particle number concentration (PNC), oxidative potential of PM, absorbance, endotoxin content, as well as elemental and chemical composition of PM, and gaseous pollutants concentrations. This paper presents a detailed characterization of particulate air pollution at the sampling sites. We found significant differences in all PM characteristics between the sites. The underground train station, compared to each outdoor location, had substantially higher concentrations of nearly all PM characteristics. The average PM10 and PM2.5 mass concentrations at the underground train station were 394 mu g m(-3) and 137 mu g m(-3), respectively, which was 14.1 and 7.6 times higher than the urban background. The sum of the concentrations of trace metals in fine and coarse PM was nearly 20 times above the outdoor levels. Elemental carbon (EC) was elevated at the underground site in the fine but also in the coarse mode, in contrast to the traffic sites where EC was predominantly found in fine PM. The highest concentrations and contrasts in PNC were at the traffic sites (between 45,000 and 80,000 particles cm(-3)), which was several times higher than measured at any other site. Correlations of PNC with metals, PM10, PM2.5 and absorbance were low to moderate, while correlations between PM10, PM2.5 and the metals Cu and Fe were high. After excluding the underground train station data, correlations between PM10, EC and metals decreased whereas the correlation between PNC and EC increased. We conclude that we were able to successfully identify and characterize real-world situations with very different particle characteristics. High contrast and low correlations between PM characteristics, as well as consistency of these differences across sampling campaigns, provide a good basis for identifying health relevant PM characteristics in the upcoming analysis. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
- Air pollution
- Particle characteristics