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Your Environment. Your Health.

Radioactive Air Particles Increase Inflammation in Elderly Men

Petros Koutrakis, Ph.D.
Harvard University
P01ES009825, P30ES000002, R01ES019853

Elderly men exposed to radioactive air pollution particles had increased levels of inflammatory biomarkers linked to heart disease, according to an NIEHS-funded study. The findings point to inflammation as the pathway by which radioactive particulate matter may increase cardiovascular disease risk.

Radon, a naturally-occurring gas, breaks down into radioactive particles that attach to particulate air pollution and can release radiation in the lungs if inhaled. The study included 752 men in the greater Boston area aged 75 years on average. The researchers used daily measurements from five radiation monitors in the study area to calculate short- and medium-term average exposures to particle radioactivity. Using statistical models, they found positive associations between particle radioactivity and biomarkers of both inflammation and vascular dysfunction. They separated effects of radioactivity from other pollutants by using models with and without adjustment for fine particulate matter, black carbon, and other compounds. Men with increased exposure to short-term particle radioactivity had higher levels of the inflammatory biomarker C-reactive protein. Vascular dysfunction biomarkers were similarly increased with higher short-term exposure. The effects of exposure to radioactive particles remained after adjustment for air pollutants, in most cases.

Citation: Blomberg AJ, Nyhan MM, Bind MA, Vokonas P, Coull BA, Schwartz J, Koutrakis P. 2020. The role of ambient particle radioactivity in inflammation and endothelial function in an elderly cohort. Epidemiology 31(4):499–508.

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