In the study, portable laser particle counters were used to develop a proxy of car-user exposure profiles and analyse the factors affecting particulate matter ≤2.5 μm (PM2.5; fine fraction) and ≤10 μm (PM2.5–10; coarse fraction).
Measurements were carried out during morning, off- and evening-peak hours under windows-open and windows-closed (fan-on and recirculation) conditions on predefined routes. For all cities, PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations were highest during windows-open, followed by fan-on and recirculation.
Compared with recirculation, PM2.5 and PM10 were higher by up to 589% (Blantyre) and 1020% (São Paulo), during windows-open and higher by up to 385% (São Paulo) and 390% (São Paulo) during fan-on, respectively. Coarse particles dominated the PM fraction during windows-open while fine particles dominated during fan-on and recirculation, indicating filter effectiveness in removing coarse particles and a need for filters that limit the ingress of fine particles.
Spatial variation analysis during windows-open showed that pollution hotspots make up to a third of the total route-length. PM2.5 exposure for windows-open during off-peak hours was 91% and 40% less than morning and evening peak hours, respectively. Across cities, determinants of relatively high personal exposure doses included lower car speeds, temporally longer journeys, and higher in-car concentrations. It was also concluded that car-users in the least affluent cities experienced disproportionately higher in-car PM2.5 exposures.
Cities were classified into three groups according to low, intermediate, and high levels of PM exposure to car commuters, allowing to draw similarities and highlight best practices.