Tag Archives: fine particulate matter (PM2.5)

 A study of 60 million Americans 65 years old and older (the entire Medicare population) found that long-term exposure to airborne fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone at concentrations below current national standards increases the risk of premature death ("all cause mortality") even when the levels are below current national standards. This effect was most pronounced among racial minorities and people with low income. The national standards are called National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), and they are established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Note that PM2.5 refers to fine particles in the air smaller than 2.5 micrometers - these are truly small particles. It is thought that these tiny particles contribute to the development of potentially fatal diseases various ways - by causing chronic inflammation, and also because they slip past the body's defenses and can be absorbed deep into the lungs and bloodstream. They are not sneezed or coughed out the way larger natural particles (like airborne soil and sand) are removed from the body's airways.

These study results are a strong argument in support of the view that our air needs to be protected and standards need to be strengthened - not loosened. Earlier posts on this topic have found links between air pollution (especially fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers) and cognitive decline and dementia in older women, strokes, high blood pressure, an increase in death (especially cardiovascular disease), etc. From Medical Xpress:

Study of US seniors strengthens link between air pollution and premature death

A new study of 60 million Americans—about 97% of people age 65 and older in the United States—shows that long-term exposure to airborne fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone increases the risk of premature death, even when that exposure is at levels below the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) currently established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health researchers found that men, blacks, and low-income populations had higher risk estimates from PM2.5 exposure compared with the national average, with blacks having mortality risks three times higher than the national average. The results showed that if the level of PM2.5 could be lowered by just 1 microgram per cubic meter (ug/m3) nationwide, about 12,000 lives could be saved every year. Similarly, if the level of ozone could be lowered by just 1 part per billion (ppb) nationwide, about 1,900 lives would be saved each year.

"This is a study of unprecedented statistical power because of the massive size of the study population. These findings suggest that lowering the NAAQS for fine particulate matter will produce important public health benefits, especially among self-identified racial minorities and people with low incomes," said Francesca Dominici, principal investigator of this study and professor of biostatistics at Harvard Chan School and co-director of the Harvard Data Science Initiative.

The researchers examined Medicare claims records of 60 million Americans 65+ over a seven-year period, representing 460 million person-years of follow-up. They also estimated air pollution levels at each 1 kilometer grid for the entire U.S. upon which the claims data could be overlaid and interpreted. .... By relying on this well-validated prediction model, the team was able to include subjects who live in unmonitored and less-populated areas so that the effects of air pollution on all 60 million people could be analyzed regardless of whether they lived in urban, suburban, or rural areas. "This study shows that although we think air quality in the United States is good enough to protect our citizens, in fact we need to lower pollution levels even further," said Schwartz. [Original study in New England Journal of Medicine.]

 Another study finding a link between air pollution and negative health effects - this time a higher incidence of decline in cognitive functioning  and dementia in older women (65 and older) exposed to fine particles (PM2.5 ). These extremely small particles from vehicle emissions are a major source of urban air pollution throughout the world. These results match other studies finding a link with urban air pollution, especially vehicle traffic, to negative effects on the brain (dementia, cognitive decline, shrinking of the brain, etc.). The researchers also exposed mice to this air pollution for 15 weeks and then studied their brains for evidence of degenerative effects in their brains - and yes, they did find them.

The researchers found that the adverse effects of fine particulate air pollution was stronger in both women and mice who had the APOE4 gene, a genetic variation that increases the risk for Alzheimer's disease. They said that while the air pollution has negative effects in general, that having the APOE4 gene interacted with the air pollution. The researchers also wrote that the mice studies they did showed that "...exposure to urban airborne particulates can intensify amyloid accumulation and neurodegeneration". Medical Xpress:

Air pollution may lead to dementia in older women

Tiny air pollution particles—the type that mainly comes from power plants and automobiles—may greatly increase the chance of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, according to USC-led research. Scientists and engineers found that older women who live in places with fine particulate matter exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's standard are 81 percent more at risk for global cognitive decline and 92 percent more likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer's.

If their findings hold up in the general population, air pollution could be responsible for about 21 percent of dementia cases, according to the study. "Microscopic particles generated by fossil fuels get into our body directly through the nose into the brain," said University Professor Caleb Finch at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and co-senior author of the study. "Cells in the brain treat these particles as invaders and react with inflammatory responses, which over the course of time, appear to exacerbate and promote Alzheimer's disease.

The adverse effects were stronger in women who had the APOE4 gene, a genetic variation that increases the risk for Alzheimer's. "Our study .....provides the inaugural scientific evidence of a critical Alzheimer's risk gene possibly interacting with air particles to accelerate brain aging," said Jiu-Chiuan Chen, co-senior author of the study....[Their study] adds to an emerging body of research from around the world that links air pollution to dementia. The offending pollutants—known as PM2.5—are fine, inhalable particles with diameters 2.5 micrometers or smaller. A human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter, making it 30 times larger than the largest PM2.5. The researchers analyzed data of 3,647 65- to 79-year-old women from the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS). These women lived across 48 states and did not have dementia when they enrolled.

USC scientists chronically exposed female mice carrying the APOE4 gene to nano-sized air pollution for 15 weeks. Compared to the control group, mice predisposed to Alzheimer's disease accumulated as much as 60 percent more amyloid plaque, the toxic clusters of protein fragments that further the progression of Alzheimer's.

In other studies, Chen and his colleagues linked long-term exposure to high PM2.5 levels to smaller gray and white matter volumes in important areas such as the frontal lobe, which carries out thinking, decision-making and planning. For every 3.5 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter of air, white matter (insulated nerve fibers that connect different brain regions) decreased by 6 cubic centimeters, according to one earlier study. [see post]

  Study after study finds negative health effects from air pollution, such as heart disease (here, here, and here). Now two more studies found that living in areas with high air pollution is linked to a higher stroke risk. One study (done in Japan) found an increase of ischemic stroke on the same day as exposure to high levels of air pollution, while the other (done in London, UK) found a higher risk of death after stroke (especially ischemic strokes) in patients who live in areas of high air pollution. This was especially pronounced with exposure to smaller or fine particulate matter (PM2.5)- which is found in high quantities in vehicle exhaust fumes.

It is thought that the fine particles in the air (PM2.5) contribute to the development of potentially fatal diseases various ways - by causing chronic inflammation, and also because they slip past the body's defenses and can be absorbed deep into the lungs and bloodstream. They are not sneezed or coughed out the way larger natural particles, like airborne soil and sand, are removed from the body's airways. What can be done? Other studies have found that when air pollution is reduced, than the risk of death is reduced. So yes, pollution controls on vehicles such as trucks and buses are good. And just think how much air pollution will be reduced when electric vehicles replace current gas powered cars and trucks. From Medscape:

Air Pollution Linked to Higher Stroke Mortality

More evidence showing that living in areas with high levels of air pollution is linked to a higher stroke risk has come from two new studies. Both studies are published online in the journal Stroke. The first, from the United Kingdom, shows a higher risk for death after a stroke in patients who live in areas of high air pollution, and the other, a Japanese study, suggests a higher risk for a new stroke the same day as exposure to high levels of air pollution.

"We have shown a significantly increased risk of death after stroke in patients who had long-term exposure to high levels air pollution before their stroke occurred," senior author of the UK study, Charles Wolfe, MD.... "This was particularly pronounced for high exposure to smaller particulate matter — particles below 2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5) — which are found in high quantities in exhaust fumes." For the study, Professor Wolfe and colleagues analyzed data from the South London Stroke Register, a population-based register covering an urban, multiethnic population.....Results showed an increased risk for death up to 5 years after stroke in patients living in areas of high air pollution.

"While this study adds to the evidence linking air pollution to cardiovascular disease, it cannot prove causality as it has an observational design," Professor Wolfe commented...."So it is difficult to say for certain that it is the air pollution that is responsible but there are many studies now that have shown similar associations," he said. He noted that the smaller particles (PM2.5) were associated with a worse effect on mortality and this correlated with biological studies that have shown a greater inflammatory effect of small particulate matter vs larger particulate matter on the vessel wall. "Our study suggests that people who have previously had an ischemic stroke, but not a hemorrhagic stroke, may be more vulnerable and at a higher risk of death to chronic, long-term exposure of PM," they conclude.

The Japanese study, by lead author Ryu Matsuo, MD, PhD, Department of Health Care Administration and Management Graduate School of Medical Sciences, Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan, and colleagues, looked at acute exposure to air pollution and shows a small increase in the risk of having a stroke within a day of high exposure to pollution. For the study, the researchers analyzed data on 6885 ischemic stroke patients from a multicenter hospital-based stroke registry in Japan who were previously independent and hospitalized within 24 hours of stroke onset.

Professor Wolfe said his group have conducted a similar study looking at exposure of air pollution in the year before stroke, which showed a 23% increase in stroke risk in those exposed to higher levels of PM2.5. 

  A recent post (Air Pollution Can Kill You) discussed recent research that found that air pollution is linked to an overall increase in death rates, especially cardiovascular disease. But how many deaths each year are linked to air pollution? Recent research suggests that outdoor air pollution, mostly by fine particulate matter with a diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), leads to 3.3 million premature deaths per year worldwide, predominantly in Asia. The number one cause  worldwide is residential energy use such as heating and cooking, (India ,China, and the developing world). But surprisingly agriculture or farming is number 2 worldwide. How can that be? Well, farms produce ammonia from fertilizer and animal waste. That ammonia then combines with sulfates from coal-fired power plants and nitrates from vehicle exhaust to form the soot particles that are the big air pollution killers. The United States had about 54,905 deaths in 2010 from soot and smog. Power plants and traffic (vehicle emissions) are big sources of the air pollution linked to deaths in the USA. From Medical Xpress:

Millions of premature deaths tied to air pollution

Outdoor air pollution leads to more than 3 million premature deaths per year, primarily in Asia, according to a letter published online Sept. 16 in Nature.

Johannes Lelieveld, Ph.D., from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany, and colleagues used a global atmospheric chemistry model to investigate the link between premature mortality and seven emission source categories in urban and rural environments. The researchers found that outdoor air pollution, mostly by fine particulate matter with a diameter smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), leads to 3.3 million premature deaths per year worldwide, predominantly in Asia. The largest impact on premature mortality globally comes from residential energy use such as heating and cooking, prevalent in India and China. In the United States, emissions from traffic and power generation are important. Agricultural emissions make the largest relative contribution to PM2.5 in the eastern United States, Europe, Russia, and East Asia, with the estimate of overall health impact depending on assumptions regarding particle toxicity.

Same topic, more discussion. From ABC News: Study: Air Pollution Kills 3.3 Million Worldwide, May Double

Air pollution is killing 3.3 million people a year worldwide, according to a new study that includes this surprise: Farming plays a large role in smog and soot deaths in industrial nations.....The study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, used health statistics and computer models. About three quarters of the deaths are from strokes and heart attacks, said lead author Jos Lelieveld at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany. The findings are similar to other less detailed pollution death estimates, outside experts said.

"About 6 percent of all global deaths each year occur prematurely due to exposure to ambient air pollution. This number is higher than most experts would have expected, say, 10 years ago," said Jason West, a University of North Carolina environmental sciences professor who wasn't part of the study but praised it. Air pollution kills more than HIV and malaria combined, Lelieveld said. With nearly 1.4 million deaths a year, China has the most air pollution fatalities, followed by India with 645,000 and Pakistan with 110,000.

The United States, with 54,905 deaths in 2010 from soot and smog, ranks seventh highest for air pollution deaths. What's unusual is that the study says that agriculture caused 16,221 of those deaths, second only to 16,929 deaths blamed on power plants. In the U.S. Northeast, all of Europe, Russia, Japan and South Korea, agriculture is the No. 1 cause of the soot and smog deaths, according to the study. Worldwide, agriculture is the No. 2 cause with 664,100 deaths, behind the more than 1 million deaths from in-home heating and cooking done with wood and other biofuels in developing world.

The problem with farms is ammonia from fertilizer and animal waste, Lelieveld said. That ammonia then combines with sulfates from coal-fired power plants and nitrates from car exhaust to form the soot particles that are the big air pollution killers, he said. In London, for example, the pollution from traffic takes time to be converted into soot, and then it is mixed with ammonia and transported downwind to the next city, he said....In the central United States, the main cause of soot and smog premature deaths is power plants; in much of the West, it's traffic emissions.

 Another study finding negative health effects from air pollution. This year I've posted several studies that found negative effects on the brain (and even cognition) from air pollution for people of all ages. Now this latest study found that in areas with air pollution, long-term exposure to outdoor fine particulate matter (PM2.5),which are fine particles in the air, are linked to an overall increase in risk of death, especially due to cardiovascular disease. The fine particles in the air contribute to the development of potentially fatal heart and lung diseases because they slip past the body's defenses and can be absorbed deep into the lungs and bloodstream. They are not sneezed or coughed out the way larger natural particles, like airborne soil and sand, are removed from the body's airways. From Science Daily:

Link between air pollution, increased deaths and increased deaths from heart disease affirmed

In what is believed to be the largest, most detailed study of its kind in the United States, scientists at NYU Langone Medical Center and elsewhere have confirmed that tiny chemical particles in the air we breathe are linked to an overall increase in risk of death. The researchers say this kind of air pollution involves particles so small they are invisible to the human eye (at less than one ten-thousandth of an inch in diameter, or no more than 2.5 micrometers across).

In a report on the findings, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives online Sept. 15, the scientists conclude that even minuscule increases in the amount of these particles (by 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air, for example) lead to an overall increased risk of death from all causes by 3 percent -- and roughly a 10 percent increase in risk of death due to heart disease. For nonsmokers, the risk increase rises to 27 percent in cases of death due to respiratory disease.

"Our data add to a growing body of evidence that particulate matter is really harmful to health, increasing overall mortality, mostly deaths from cardiovascular disease, as well as deaths from respiratory disease in nonsmokers," says lead study investigator and health epidemiologist George Thurston, ScD, a professor of population health and environmental medicine at NYU Langone. "Our study is particularly notable because all the data used in our analysis comes from government- and independently held sources."

According to Thurston, fine particles can contribute to the development of potentially fatal heart and lung diseases because they slip past the body's defenses and can be absorbed deep into the lungs and bloodstream. They are not sneezed or coughed out the way larger natural particles, like airborne soil and sand, are removed from the body's airways. Moreover, Thurston says, fine particles are usually made of harmful chemicals such as arsenic, selenium, and mercury, and can also transport gaseous pollutants, including sulfur and nitrogen oxides, with them into the lungs.

For their research, Thurston and his colleagues evaluated data from a detailed health and diet survey conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The NIH-AARP study involved 566,000 male and female volunteers, ages 50 to 71, from California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and the metropolitan areas of Atlanta and Detroit. Analyzing information gathered about the participants between 2000 and 2009,....

Indeed, the team did not find any significant difference in the effect of particulate matter exposure between different sexes or age groups or by level of education. The researchers also noted that limiting the analysis to only the state of California, which has the most rigorous controls on air pollution, did not produce a different overall level of risk; instead, they found the same association between particulate matter exposure and increase in risk of death from all nonaccidental causes and from cardiovascular disease.

 Several recent studies found that air pollution has a negative effect on the brain. This study of elderly women in North Carolina found that long-term exposure to higher levels of air pollution (specifically fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers (called PM2.5) resulted in smaller brain volumes (especially the brain's white matter). They studied elderly women (aged 71 to 89), but the findings should be of concern to everyone exposed to high levels of air pollution.  White matter connects brain regions (with nerve fibers that pass signals throughout the brain) and determines how information is processed in the brain. The researchers pointed out that other recent studies reported that high air pollution is linked to cognitive decline and accelerated brain aging. From Futurity:

AIR POLLUTION MAY SHRINK BRAIN’S WHITE MATTER

Exposure to air pollution may have a negative impact on how the brain’s white matter ages. Older women who lived in geographic locations with higher levels of fine particulate matter in ambient air had significantly smaller white matter volumes across a wide range of brain areas, new research shows.

Fine particulate matter is smaller than 2.5 micrometers and is known as PM2.5, a form of pollution that easily enters the lungs and possibly the bloodstream. White matter connects brain regions and determines how information is processed in the brain....“Our study provides convincing evidence that several parts of the aging brain, especially the white matter, are an important target of neurotoxic effects induced by long-term exposure to fine particles in the air.”

The study found that older women ages 71 to 89 who had lived in places with greater PM2.5 exposures had significantly smaller volumes of white matter and that this could not be explained by the geographic region where they lived, their race or ethnic background, socioeconomic status, lifestyle, or medical conditions that may also influence brain volumes.

The researchers performed brain magnetic resonance imaging scans of 1,403 women who are part of the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS), a nationwide report based at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. The researchers also used residential histories and air monitoring data to estimate the participants’ exposure to air pollution in the previous six to seven years.

White matter contains nerve fibers and connects brain regions with each other by traveling deep within and passing nerve signals throughout the brain. Gray matter is primarily composed of neuronal cell bodies, dendrites, glial cells, and capillaries. The study did not find impacts from exposure to air pollution in participants’ gray matter.