Urban green spaces may improve human health and well-being. However, green spaces may also emit allergenic pollen and these may trigger asthma, allergic disease, and respiratory infections. How allergy risks in green spaces may be modified by environmental change is still not widely understood.
This study analyzed tree inventory data of 18 urban green spaces (5940 trees; 278 taxa; 93 ha) in the Brussels Capital Region, Belgium. We investigated present tree pollen allergy risk (AR) and changes in AR driven by changes in tree species composition, allergenic potential and pollen season duration. AR was estimated by calculating the allergenicity index IUGZA (range 0–1, 1 worst) for the present situation and 13 scenarios.
The average AR was 0.08 (SD 0.05; range 0.002–0.17). The AR increased by 11–27% in increased allergenic potential scenarios, and by 44% in the increased pollen season duration scenario. Preventive removal of birch, hazel and alder reduced the AR by 13%. The AR increased by 99–111% in combined scenarios with and without preventive removal of the main allergenic taxa.
These findings indicate that tree pollen allergy risks could considerably rise when ongoing environmental changes lead to a combination of longer pollen seasons, increased pollen allergen potency, and increased sensitization for one or more species. The preventive removal of the main allergenic tree species cannot sufficiently counter allergy risks caused by other species and that are amplified by environmental change, highlighting the importance of careful tree species selection in urban green space policy and planning.