Spatiotemporal variability and measurement uncertainty in atmospheric polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs): A quantitative variance component analysis


A comprehensive understanding of the spatial and temporal variability in air pollution facilitates air monitoring designs, exposure assessment, and environmental epidemiology research. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are ubiquitous in the air but are challenging to measure due to their low concentrations. To date, no study has been specifically designed to quantify the spatial and temporal aspects of variability in ambient PAH concentrations. This study aims to decompose the variability in PAH concentrations measured in the ambient air in a metropolitan area into different components. Air samples were collected using high-volume samplers at 19 stations in the Memphis Tri-state Area across Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi, USA, every 12 days from March 2018 to May 2019. Samples were collected on polyurethane forms and quartz fiber filters and analyzed using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) for 32 PAHs. Variance components of the total variance were computed using mixed models for individual PAHs and sum concentrations of the 16 priority PAHs (Σ16PAHs). For Σ16PAHs, spatial and temporal variability represented 16% and 84% of the total variance. The total variance could be further apportioned to between-urbanicity (0.5%), between-site (5.5%), between-season (41%), and within-season (53%) variances. Sampling and analytical uncertainties represented 39% and 0.01% of the total variance, when monitoring uncertainties were considered. Concentrations of individual PAHs followed similar variance structures. These findings confirmed the validity of centralized monitoring stations to represent a large area, suggested the need for repeated samples across seasons and at multiple time points within a season, and warranted improving quality control for field sample collections.

Publication Title

Atmospheric Environment