Characterizing the spatial variation of air pollutants and the contributions of high emitting vehicles in Pittsburgh, PA

Yi Tan, Eric M. Lipsky, Rawad Saleh, Allen L. Robinson, Albert A. Presto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


We used a mobile measurement platform to characterize a suite of air pollutants (black carbon (BC), particle-bound polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PB-PAH), benzene, and toluene) in the city of Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. More than 270 h of data were collected from forty-two sites which were selected based on analysis in the geographic information system (GIS). Mobile measurements were performed during three different times of day (mornings, afternoons/evenings, and overnight) in both winter (November 2011 to February 2012) and summer (June 2012 to August 2012). Pollutant concentrations were elevated in river valleys by 9% (benzene) to 30% (PB-PAH) relative to upland areas. Traffic had strong impacts on measured pollutants. PB-PAH and BC concentrations at high traffic sites were a factor of 2 and 30% higher than at low traffic sites, respectively. Pollutant concentrations were highest in the morning sessions due to a combination of traffic and meteorological conditions. The highly time-resolved data indicated that elevated pollutant concentrations at high traffic sites were due to short duration plume events associated with high emitting vehicles. High emitting vehicles contributed up to 70% of the near road PB-PAH and 30% of BC; emissions from these vehicles drove substantial spatial variations in BC and PB-PAH concentrations. Many high emitting vehicles were presumably diesel trucks or buses, because plumes were strongly correlated with truck traffic volume. In contrast, PB-PAH and BC in the nonplume background air was weakly correlated with traffic, and their spatial patterns were more influenced by terrain and point source emissions. The spatial variability in contributions of high emitting vehicles suggests that the effect of potential control strategies vary for different pollutants and environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14186-14194
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 16 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


Dive into the research topics of 'Characterizing the spatial variation of air pollutants and the contributions of high emitting vehicles in Pittsburgh, PA'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this