Human exposure assessment in air pollution systems.
The air pollution problem can be depicted as a system consisting of several basic components: source, concentration, exposure, dose, and adverse effects. Exposure, the contact between an agent (e.g., an air pollutant) and a target (e.g., a human respiratory tract), is the key to linking the pollution source and health effects. Human exposure to air pollutants depends on exposure concentration and exposure duration. Exposure concentration is the concentration of a pollutant at a contact boundary, which usually refers to the human breathing zone. However, ambient concentrations of regulated pollutants at monitoring sites have been measured in practice to represent actual exposure. This can be a valid practice if the pollutants are ones that are predominantly generated outdoors and if the monitoring sites are appropriately selected to reflect where people are. Results from many exposure studies indicate that people are very likely to receive the greatest exposure to many toxic air pollutants not outside but inside places such as homes, offices, and automobiles. For many of these pollutants, major sources of exposure can be quite different from major sources of emission. This is because a large emission source can have a very small value of exposure effectiveness, i.e., the fraction of pollutant released from a source that actually reaches the human breathing zone. Exposure data are crucial to risk management decisions for setting priorities, selecting cost-effective approaches to preventing or reducing risks, and evaluating risk mitigation efforts. Measurement or estimate of exposure is essential but often inadequately addressed in environmental epidemiologic studies. Exposure can be quantified using direct or indirect measurement methods, depending upon the purpose of exposure assessment and the availability of relevant data. The rapidly developing battery and electronic technologies as well as advancements in molecular biology are expected to accelerate the improvement of current methods and the development of new methods for future exposure assessment.
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