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Urban-scale variation in pollen concentrations: a single station is insufficient to characterize daily exposure


Epidemiological analyses of airborne allergenic pollen often use concentration measurements from a single station to represent exposure across a city, but this approach does not account for the spatial variation of concentrations within the city. Because there are few descriptions of urban-scale variation, the resulting exposure measurement error is unknown but potentially important for epidemiological studies. This study examines urban-scale variation in pollen concentrations by measuring pollen concentrations of 13 taxa over 24-h periods twice weekly at 25 sites in two seasons in Detroit, Michigan. Spatiotemporal variation is described using cumulative distribution functions and regression models. Daily pollen concentrations across the 25 stations varied considerably, and the average quartile coefficient of dispersion was 0.63. Measurements at a single site explained 3–85% of the variation at other sites, depending on the taxon, and 95% prediction intervals of pollen concentrations generally spanned one to two orders of magnitude. These results demonstrate considerable heterogeneity of pollen levels at the urban scale and suggest that the use of a single monitoring site will not reflect pollen exposure over an urban area and can lead to sizable measurement error in epidemiological studies, particularly when a daily time step is used. These errors might be reduced by using predictive daily pollen levels in models that combine vegetation maps, pollen production estimates, phenology models, and dispersion processes, or by using coarser time steps in the epidemiological analysis.

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This work was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences through a NRSA postdoctoral fellowship (Grant Number F32 ES026477). It was also supported by the Michigan Institute for Clinical Health Research through the Postdoctoral Translational Scholars Program (Grant Number UL1 TR002240). S. Batterman also acknowledges support from Grant P30ES017885 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. We thank John Kost for his considerable effort on this project and the volunteers that allowed us to sample pollen on their property.

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Correspondence to Daniel S. W. Katz.

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Katz, D.S.W., Batterman, S.A. Urban-scale variation in pollen concentrations: a single station is insufficient to characterize daily exposure. Aerobiologia 36, 417–431 (2020).

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