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Your Environment. Your Health.

Air Pollution Linked With Premature Death in Elderly

Antonella Zanobetti, Ph.D., Joel Schwartz, Ph.D.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
R01ES024332, P30ES000002, R21ES024012, R01ES026217

An NIEHS grantee and colleagues reported that short-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution and ozone was associated with a higher risk of premature death among the elderly in the U.S. The new findings complement those from an earlier study that linked premature death with long-term exposure to the same pollutants.

For the new study, the researchers examined mortality data from all the people in the U.S. enrolled in Medicare from 2000 to 2012. The investigators assessed daily air pollution exposures using models that estimated levels of particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in size (PM2.5) and ozone for most of the U.S., including unmonitored areas.

By linking the deaths that occurred between 2000 and 2012 with the air pollution data, the researchers found that for every 10 micrograms per cubic meter daily increase in PM2.5 and 10 parts per billion daily increase in warm-season ozone, the daily mortality rate increased by 1.05 percent and 0.51 percent, respectively. The data analysis also revealed that some populations were affected differently. Death rates linked with increased PM2.5 were higher for women, non-whites, and people who qualified for Medicaid. The increased risk of death occurred at PM2.5 and ozone levels below national air quality standards, suggesting that the standards may need to be reevaluated.

Citation: Di Q, Dai L, Wang Y, Zanobetti A, Choirat C, Schwartz JD, Dominici F. 2017. Association of short-term exposure to air pollution with mortality in older adults. JAMA 318(24):2446-2456.