Traffic Impacts on Fine Particulate Matter Air Pollution at the Urban Project Scale: A Quantitative Assessment


Formal health impact assessment (HIA), currently underused in the United States, is a relatively new process for assisting decision-makers in non-health sectors by estimating the expected public health impacts of policy and planning decisions. In this paper we quantify the expected air quality impacts of increased traffic due to a proposed new university campus extension in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In so doing, we build the evidence base for quantitative HIA in the United States and develop an improved approach for forecasting traffic effects on exposure to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in air. Very few previous US HIAs have quantified health impacts and instead have relied on stakeholder intuition to decide whether effects will be positive, negative, or neutral. Our method uses an air dispersion model known as CAL3QHCR to predict changes in exposure to airborne, traffic-related PM2.5 that could occur due to the proposed new campus development. We employ CAL3QHCR in a new way to better represent variability in road grade, vehicle driving patterns (speed, acceleration, deceleration, and idling), and meteorology. In a comparison of model predictions to measured PM2.5 concentrations, we found that the model estimated PM2.5 dispersion to within a factor of two for 75% of data points, which is within the typical benchmark used for model performance evaluation. Applying the model to present-day conditions in the study area, we found that current traffic contributes a relatively small amount to ambient PM2.5 concentrations: about 0.14 μg/m3 in the most exposed neighborhood—relatively low in comparison to the current US National Ambient Air Quality Standard of 12 μg/m3. Notably, even though the new campus is expected to bring an additional 40,000 daily trips to the study community by the year 2025, vehicle-related PM2.5 emissions are expected to decrease compared to current conditions due to anticipated improvements in vehicle technologies and cleaner fuels.

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C. Chart-asa, K. Sexton and J. Gibson, "Traffic Impacts on Fine Particulate Matter Air Pollution at the Urban Project Scale: A Quantitative Assessment," Journal of Environmental Protection, Vol. 4 No. 12A, 2013, pp. 49-62. doi: 10.4236/jep.2013.412A1006.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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