HSPH Researchers Examine Short Term Exposure to Fine Particulate Matter

Pollution is taking a much more devastating toll on our health than we realize. A recent article in CNN Health cites research on the surprisingly strong link between exposure to particle pollution and disease. The research team, which included students, research scientists, and faculty from the HSPH Departments of Biostatistics and Environmental Health, was led by Professor Francesca Dominici, and published in the BMJ.

The study, which analyzed Medicare inpatient hospital claims and pollution concentrations measured at 1,928 EPA monitoring sites, found the expected correlations between particulate exposure and respiratory and cardiovascular problems. However, it also found increased risk of hospitalization due to some unexpected diseases including septicemia, kidney failure, skin infections and urinary tract infections. For these diseases, every 1 microgram per cubic meter increase in short-term exposure to fine particulate matter was associated with an annual increase of 2,050 hospital admissions. This equates to $31 million in inpatient and post-acute care costs, and $2.5 billion in value of life every year, sums which Dominici said are actually an undercount of costs.

Given these results, the researchers suggest that the WHO air quality guidelines, already undercut by recent policy shifts, actually need to be made more stringent. According to Dominici, “This is a highly contentious debate right now, but this is probably one of the most robust pieces of evidence that should inform the review of these guidelines”.