Objectives: The Runcorn area, north west England contains many pollution sources, the health effects of which have been under discussion for over a hundred years. Preliminary investigations revealed an excess risk of kidney disease mortality in people living nearest to several point sources of pollution, using distance as a proxy for exposure. Ongoing epidemiological investigations into the effect of ambient mercury exposure on dose and renal effect required a more refined assessment of exposure.
Methods: Atmospheric dispersion modelling was used to assess mercury dispersion from three mercury emitting sources (including a large chlor alkali plant), based on knowledge of emissions, local meteorology and topography.
Results: The model was sensitive to various input parameters, with different dispersion patterns and ground level concentrations, and therefore different exposed populations identified when different input parameters were defined. The different approaches to exposure assessment also had an impact on the epidemiologic findings. The model output correlated well with weekly monitoring data collected in the local area, although the model underestimated concentrations in close proximity to the chlor alkali plant. The model identified that one point source did not contribute significantly to ground level mercury concentrations, meaning inclusion of this source when using the distance as a proxy approach led to significant exposure misclassification.
Conclusions: The model output indicates that assessment of ambient exposure should give consideration to the magnitude of emissions, point source characteristics, local meteorology and topography to ensure the most appropriate exposure classification is reached. Even if dispersion modelling cannot be undertaken, these data can be used to inform and improve the distance as a proxy approach, and improve the interpretability of the epidemiologic findings.
- dispersion modelling
- exposure assessment
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