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Updated Interim Guidance on Mobile Source Air Toxic Analysis in NEPA Documents

Appendix D - FHWA Sponsored Mobile Source Air Toxics Research Efforts

Human epidemiology and animal toxicology experiments indicate that many chemicals or mixtures termed air toxics have the potential to impact human health. As toxicology, epidemiology and air contaminant measurement techniques have improved over the decades, scientists and regulators have increased their focus on the levels of each chemical or material in the air in an effort to link potential exposures with potential health effects.

Air toxics emissions from mobile sources have the potential to impact human health and often represent a regulatory agency concern. The FHWA has responded to this concern by developing an integrated research program to answer the most important transportation community questions related to air toxics, human health, and the NEPA process. To this end, FHWA has performed, or funded several research efforts.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of published analyses of air pollution, air pollution from mobile sources, near road air pollution, and health. It would not be practical to list them all, as they vary in terms of quality, methodology, spatial, temporal and geographic applicability and other possible factors. However, several of the studies either initiated or supported by FHWA are described below.

The National Near Roadway MSAT Study

The FHWA, in conjunction with the EPA and a consortium of State departments of transportation, studied the concentration and physical behavior of MSAT and mobile source PM 2.5 in Las Vegas, Nevada and Detroit, Michigan. The study criteria dictated that the study site be open to traffic and have 150,000 Annual Average Daily Traffic or more. These studies were intended to provide knowledge about the dispersion of MSAT emissions with the ultimate goal of enabling more informed transportation and environmental decisions at the project-level. The Las Vegas study was unique in that the monitored data was collected for the entire year. Both the Las Vegas, NV and Detroit, MI reports revealed there are a large number of influences in these urban settings and researchers must look beyond the roadway to find all the pollution sources in the near road environment. Additionally, meteorology played a large role in the concentrations measured in the near road study area. More information is available at

Diesel Emissions

Advanced Collaborative Emissions Study

In 2015 the Health Effects Institute (HEI) released the last in a three part series of reports in a multiyear research effort to study the health effects of diesel emissions: Advanced Collaborative Emissions Study (ACES) This included reports on Subchronic Exposure Results: Biologic Responses in Rats and Mice and Assessment of Genotoxicity and Lifetime Cancer and Non-Cancer Assessment in Rats Exposed to New-Technology Diesel Exhaust. The Executive Summary “summarizes the main findings of emissions and health testing of new technology heavy-duty diesel engines capable of meeting US 2007/2010 and EURO VI/6 diesel emissions standards. The results demonstrated the dramatic improvements in emissions and the absence of any significant health effects. The Executive Summary presents the main findings of all three phases of the project and places the results in the context of health risk assessment, noting that ‘the overall toxicity of exhaust from modern diesel engines is significantly decreased compared with the toxicity of emissions from traditional-technology diesel engines.’”

Diesel Emissions and Lung Cancer: An Evaluation of Recent Epidemiological Evidence for Quantitative Risk Assessment (Special Report 19)

In 2015 the Health Effects Institute (HEI) released Special Report 19 that contains “the intensive review and analysis of the studies of mine and truck workers exposed to older diesel engine exhaust.” The purpose was to review two epidemiological studies of diesel exhaust and lung cancer “to consider whether data or results from these studies might also be used to quantify lung cancer risk in populations exposed to diesel exhaust at lower concentrations and with different temporal patterns, such as those experienced by the general population in urban areas worldwide.” To date, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not established a cancer risk screening level for diesel exhaust*. In its report, HEI’s Diesel Epidemiology Panel concluded that “the studies are well prepared and are useful for applying the data to calculate the cancer risk due to exposure to diesel exhaust. The Panel noted, however, that efforts to apply these studies to estimate human risk at today’s ambient levels will need to consider the much lower levels of emission pollutants from newer diesel technology as well as the limitations . . . identified in each study.” In the Report (page 6), it is stated that “detailed evaluations of these studies . . . lay the groundwork for a systematic characterization of the exposure–response relationship and associated uncertainties in a quantitative risk assessment, should one be undertaken” by the EPA.

*HEI 1999 Diesel Exhaust review identified numerous limitations of epidemiological studies available at that time and did not recommend a cancer risk due to exposure to diesel exhaust be established. See the HEI Diesel Epidemiology Expert Panel. 1999. Diesel Emissions and Lung Cancer: Epidemiology and Quantitative Risk Assessment. Special Report. Cambridge, MA: Health Effects Institute.

Traffic-Related Air Pollution

Mobile Source Air Toxic Hot Spot

Given concerns about the possibility of MSAT exposure in the near road environment, The Health Effects Institute (HEI) dedicated a number of research efforts at trying to find a MSAT “hotspot.” In 2011 three studies were published that tested this hypothesis. In general the authors confirm that while highways are a source of air toxics, they were unable to find that highways were the only source of these pollutants and determined that near road exposures were often no different or no higher than background or ambient levels of exposure, and hence no true hot spots were identified. These studies provide additional information:

Traffic-Related Air Pollution: A Critical Review of the Literature on Emissions, Exposure, and Health Effects

In 2010, HEI released Special Report #17, investigating the health effects of traffic related air pollution. The goal of the research was to synthesize available information on the effects of traffic on health. Researchers looked at linkages between: (1) traffic emissions (at the tailpipe) with ambient air pollution in general, (2) concentrations of ambient pollutants with human exposure to pollutants from traffic, (3) exposure to pollutants from traffic with human-health effects and toxicologic data, and (4) toxicologic data with epidemiological associations. Challenges in making exposure assessments, such as quality and quantity of emissions data and models, were investigated, as was the appropriateness of the use of proximity as an exposure-assessment model. Overall, researchers felt that there was “sufficient” evidence for causality for the exacerbation of asthma. Evidence was “suggestive but not sufficient” for other health outcomes such as cardiovascular mortality and others. Study authors also note that past epidemiologic studies may not provide an appropriate assessment of future health associations as vehicle emissions are decreasing overtime. The report is available from HEI’s website at

HEI Special Report #16

In 2007, the HEI published Special Report #16: Mobile-Source Air Toxics: A Critical Review of the Literature on Exposure and Health Effects. The purpose of this Report was to accomplish the following tasks:

The HEI chose to review literature for acetaldehyde, acrolein, benzene, 1,3-butadiene, formaldehyde, naphthalene, and polycyclic organic matter (POM). Diesel exhaust was included, but not reviewed in this study since it had been reviewed by HEI and EPA recently. In general, the Report concluded that the cancer health effects due to mobile sources are difficult to discern since the majority of quantitative assessments are derived from occupational cohorts with high concentration exposures and some cancer potency estimates are derived from animal models. The Report suggested that substantial improvements in analytical sensitively and specificity of biomarkers would provide better linkages between exposure and health effects. Noncancer endpoints were not a central focus of most research, and therefore require further investigation. Subpopulation susceptibility also requires additional evaluation. The study is available from HEI’s website at

Going One Step Beyond: A Neighborhood Scale Air Toxics Assessment in North Denver (The Good Neighbor Project)

In 2007, the Denver Department of Environmental Health (DDEH) issued a technical report entitled Going One Step Beyond: A Neighborhood Scale Air Toxics Assessment in North Denver (The Good Neighbor Project).This research project was funded by FHWA. In this study, DDEH conducted a neighborhood-scale air toxics assessment in North Denver, which includes a portion of the proposed I-70 East project area. Residents in this area have been very concerned about both existing health effects in their neighborhoods (from industrial activities, hazardous waste sites, and traffic) and potential health impacts from changes to I-70.

The study was designed to compare modeled levels of the six priority MSATs identified in FHWA’s 2006 guidance with measurements at existing MSAT monitoring sites in the study area. MOBILE6.2 emissions factors and the ISC3ST dispersion model were used (some limited testing of the CALPUFF model was also performed). Key findings include: 1) modeled mean annual concentrations from highways were well below estimated Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) cancer and non-cancer risk values for all six MSAT; 2) modeled concentrations dropped off sharply within 50 meters of roadways; 3) modeled MSAT concentrations tended to be higher along highways near the Denver Central Business District (CBD) than along the I-70 East corridor (in some cases, they were higher within the CBD itself, as were the monitored values); and 4) dispersion model results were generally lower than monitored concentrations but within a factor of two at all locations.

Kansas City PM Characterization Study (kansas City Study)

This study was initiated by EPA to conduct exhaust emissions testing on 480 light-duty, gasoline vehicles in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area (KCMA). Major goals of the study included characterizing PM emissions distributions of a sample of gasoline vehicles in Kansas City; characterizing gaseous and PM toxics exhaust emissions; and characterizing the fraction of high emitters in the fleet. In the process, sampling methodologies were evaluated. Overall, results from the study were used to populate databases for the MOVES emissions model. The FHWA was one of the research sponsors. This study is available on EPA’s website at:

Estimating The Transportation Contribution To Particulate Matter Pollution (air Toxics Supersite Study)

The purpose of this study was to improve understanding of the role of highway transportation sources in particulate matter (PM) pollution. In particular, it was important to examine uncertainties, such as the effects of the spatial and temporal distribution of travel patterns, consequences of vehicle fleet mix and fuel type, the contribution of vehicle speed and operating characteristics, and influences of geography and weather. The fundamental methodology of the study was to combine EPA research-grade air quality monitoring data in a representative sample of metropolitan areas with traffic data collected by State departments of transportation (DOTs) and local governments.

Phase I of the study, the planning and data evaluation stage, assessed the characteristics of EPA’s ambient PM monitoring initiatives and recruited State DOTs and local government to participate in the research. After evaluating and selecting potential metropolitan areas based on the quality of PM and traffic monitoring data, nine cities were selected to participate in Phase II. The goal of Phase II was to determine whether correlations could be observed between traffic on highway facilities and ambient PM concentrations. The Phase I report was published in September 2002. Phase II included the collection of traffic and air quality data and data analysis. Ultimately, six cities participated: New York City (Queens), Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Detroit and Los Angeles.

In Phase II, air quality and traffic data were collected. The air quality data was obtained from the EPA Air Quality System, Supersite personnel, and NARSTO data archive site. Traffic data included intelligent transportation system (ITS) roadway surveillance, coverage counts (routine traffic monitoring) and supplemental counts (specifically for research project). Analyses resulted in the conclusion that only a weak correlation existed between PM2.5 concentrations and traffic activity for several of the sites. The existence of general trends indicates a relationship, which however is primarily unquantifiable. Limitations of the study include the assumption that traffic sources are close enough to ambient monitors to provide sufficiently strong source strength, that vehicle activity is an appropriate surrogate for mobile emissions, and lack of knowledge of other factors such as non-traffic sources of PM and its precursors. A paper documenting the work of Phase II was presented at EPA’s 13th International Emissions Inventory Conference and is available at

Updated: 5/17/2017
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