Methods, availability, and applications of PM2.5 exposure estimates derived from ground measurements, satellite, and atmospheric models

Publication Date

October 2019

Document Type


Publication Title

Journal of the Air and Waste Management Association




Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is a well-established risk factor for public health. To support both health risk assessment and epidemiological studies, data are needed on spatial and temporal patterns of PM2.5 exposures. This review article surveys publicly available exposure datasets for surface PM2.5 mass concentrations over the contiguous U.S., summarizes their applications and limitations, and provides suggestions on future research needs. The complex landscape of satellite instruments, model capabilities, monitor networks, and data synthesis methods offers opportunities for research development, but would benefit from guidance for new users. Guidance is provided to access publicly available PM2.5 datasets, to explain and compare different approaches for dataset generation, and to identify sources of uncertainties associated with various types of datasets. Three main sources used to create PM2.5 exposure data are ground-based measurements (especially regulatory monitoring), satellite retrievals (especially aerosol optical depth, AOD), and atmospheric chemistry models. We find inconsistencies among several publicly available PM2.5 estimates, highlighting uncertainties in the exposure datasets that are often overlooked in health effects analyses. Major differences among PM2.5 estimates emerge from the choice of data (ground-based, satellite, and/or model), the spatiotemporal resolutions, and the algorithms used to fuse data sources.Implications: Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) has large impacts on human morbidity and mortality. Even though the methods for generating the PM2.5 exposure estimates have been significantly improved in recent years, there is a lack of review articles that document PM2.5 exposure datasets that are publicly available and easily accessible by the health and air quality communities. In this article, we discuss the main methods that generate PM2.5 data, compare several publicly available datasets, and show the applications of various data fusion approaches. Guidance to access and critique these datasets are provided for stakeholders in public health sectors.