Breath Biomarkers to Measure Uptake of Volatile Organic Compounds by Bicyclists

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Environmental Science & Technology

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Breath biomarkers were used to study uptake of traffic-related volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from urban bicycling. Breath analysis was selected because it is one of the least invasive methods to assess urban traveler exposure. Research hurdles that were overcome included considering that factors other than on-road exposure can influence concentrations in the body, and absorbed doses during a trip can be small compared to baseline body burdens. Pre-trip, on-road, and post-trip breath concentrations and ambient air concentrations were determined for 26 VOCs for bicyclists traveling on different path types. Statistical analyses of the concentration data identified eight monoaromatic hydrocarbons potentially useful as breath biomarkers to compare differences in body levels brought about by urban travel choices. Breath concentrations of the biomarker compounds were significantly higher than background levels after riding on high-traffic arterial streets and on a path through a high-exposure industrial area, but not after riding on low-traffic local streets or on other off-street paths. Modeled effects of high-traffic streets on ambient concentrations were 100-200% larger than those of low-traffic streets; modeled effects of high-traffic streets on breath concentrations were 40-100% larger than those of low-traffic streets. Similar percentage increases in breath concentrations are expected for bicyclists in other cities.



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