Effect of Geocoding Errors in Estimating Air Pollutant Concentrations at Residential Locations and a proposed Strategy

February 2015

This study evaluates positional and PM2.5 concentration errors that result from the use of automated geocoding methods and from linearized approximations of roads in link-based emission inventories.

Exposure to traffic-related air pollutants is highest very near roads, and thus exposure estimates are sensitive to positional errors. This study evaluates positional and PM2.5 concentration errors that result from the use of automated geocoding methods and from linearized approximations of roads in link-based emission inventories. Two automated geocoders (Bing Map and ArcGIS) along with handheld GPS instruments were used to geocode 160 home locations of children enrolled in an air pollution study investigating effects of traffic-related pollutants in Detroit, Michigan. The average and maximum positional errors using the automated geocoders were 35 and 196 m, respectively. Comparing road edge and road centerline, differences in house-to-highway distances averaged 23 m and reached 82 m. These differences were attributable to road curvature, road width and the presence of ramps, factors that should be considered in proximity measures used either directly as an exposure metric or as inputs to dispersion or other models. Effects of positional errors for the 160 homes on PM2.5 concentrations resulting from traffic-related emissions were predicted using a detailed road network and the RLINE dispersion model. Concentration errors averaged only 9%, but maximum errors reached 54% for annual averages and 87% for maximum 24-h averages. Whereas most geocoding errors appear modest in magnitude, 5% to 20% of residences are expected to have positional errors exceeding 100 m. Such errors can substantially alter exposure estimates near roads because of the dramatic spatial gradients of traffic-related pollutant concentrations. To ensure the accuracy of exposure estimates for traffic-related air pollutants, especially near roads, confirmation of geocoordinates is recommended.