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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Special Section: The Urban Forest and Ecosystem Services

Characterization of Allergen Emission Sources in Urban Areas


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 45 No. 1, p. 244-252
    Received: Feb 04, 2015
    Accepted: Apr 30, 2015
    Published: July 17, 2015

    * Corresponding author(s): palomacg@ugr.es
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  1. Paloma Cariñanos *a,
  2. Cristiano Adinolfib,
  3. Consuelo Díaz de la Guardiaa,
  4. Concepción De Linaresc and
  5. Manuel Casares-Porcela
  1. a Dep. of Botany, Univ. of Granada, 18071 Granada, Spain
    b Dep. of Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science and Technology, Univ. of Naples “Parthenope”, 80143, Naples, Italy
    c Unitat de Botànica, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Bellaterra, Spain
Core Ideas:
  • Pollen emissions by urban flora are the chief source of airborne allergens.
  • A novel characterization of the potential allergenicity of urban trees is presented.
  • Wind-pollinated species are associated with higher allergenicity values.
  • Assigning an allergenic value to each tree species will help to improve air quality.


Pollen released by urban flora—a major contributor to airborne allergen content during the pollen season—has a considerable adverse impact on human health. Using aerobiological techniques to sample and characterize airborne biological particulate matter (BPM), we can identify the main species contributing to the pollen spectrum and chart variations in counts and overall pollen dynamics throughout the year. However, given the exponential increase in the number of pollen allergy sufferers in built-up areas, new strategies are required to improve the biological quality of urban air. This paper reports on a novel characterization of the potential allergenicity of the tree species most commonly used as ornamentals in Mediterranean cities. Values were assigned to each species based on a number of intrinsic features including pollination strategy, pollen season duration, and allergenic capacity as reported in the specialist literature. Findings were used to generate a database in which groups of conifers, broadleaves, and palm trees were assigned a value of between 0 and 36, enabling their allergenicity to be rated as nil, low, moderate, high, or very high. The case study presented here focuses on the city of Granada in southern Spain. The major airborne-pollen-producing species were identified and the allergenicity of species growing in urban green zones was estimated. Corrective measures are proposed to prevent high allergen levels and thus improve biological air quality.

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