February 27 | 2020

Efficient Removal of Ultrafine Particles from Diesel Exhaust by Selected Tree Species: Implications for Roadside Planting for Improving the Quality of Urban Air. 

Wang H, Maher BA, Ahmed IA, Davison B.

Environ Sci Technol. 2019 Jun 18;53(12):6906-6916. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.8b06629 Epub 2019 May 28.

 

Abstract

Human exposure to airborne ultrafine (≪1 μm) particulate pollution may pose substantial hazards to human health, particularly in urban roadside environments where very large numbers of people are frequently exposed to vehicle-derived ultrafine particles (UFPs). For mitigation purposes, it is timely and important to quantify the deposition of traffic-derived UFPs onto leaves of selected plant species, with particularly efficient particle capture (high deposition velocity), which can be installed curbside, proximal to the emitting vehicular sources. Here, we quantify the size-resolved capture efficiency of UFPs from diesel vehicle exhaust by nine temperate-zone plant species, in wind tunnel experiments. The results show that silver birch (79% UFP removal), yew (71%), and elder (70.5%) have very high capabilities for capture of airborne UFPs. Metal concentrations and metal enrichment ratios in leaf leachates were also highest for the postexposure silver birch leaves; scanning electron microscopy showed that UFPs were concentrated along the hairs of these leaves. For all but two species, magnetic measurements demonstrated substantial increases in the concentration of magnetic particles deposited on the leaves after exposure to the exhaust particulates. Together, these new data show that leaf-deposition of UFPs is chiefly responsible for the substantial reductions in particle numbers measured downwind of the vegetation. It is critical to recognize that the deposition velocity of airborne particulate matter (PM) to leaves is species-specific and often substantially higher (∼10 to 50 times higher) than the « standard » Vd values (e.g., 0.1-0.64 cm s-1 for PM2.5) used in most modeling studies. The use of such low Vd values in models results in a major under-estimation of PM removal by roadside vegetation and thus misrepresents the efficacy of selected vegetation species in the substantial (≫20%) removal of PM. Given the potential hazard to health posed by UFPs and the removal efficiencies shown here (and by previous roadside measurements), roadside planting (maintained at or below head height) of selected species at PM « hotspots » can contribute substantially and quickly to improve in urban air quality and reductions in human exposure. These findings can contribute to the development and implementation of mitigation policies of traffic-derived PM on an international scale.