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Lung Cancer and Cardiopulmonary Mortality in Response to Long-Term Exposure to Fine Particulate Matter

George D. Thurston, ScD.
NYU School of Medicine
R01ES09560 and P30ES00260

Background: Over the past 30 years, many research studies have shown links between cardiopulmonary mortality and periods of high particulate matter and sulfur oxide pollution. Later epidemiologic studies reported health effects at lower particulate matter concentrations. While not without controversy, new air pollution standards were set in 1997 for particulate matter measuring less than 2.5 µM in diameter. Though challenged by industry groups, these standards were later upheld by the Supreme Court.

Most of these studies focused on short-term health effects; however, long-term exposures may be more important in terms of overall public health. Previous long-term studies have been less conclusive. The current study was designed to assess the relationship between long-term exposure to fine particulate matter and all-cause, lung cancer, and cardiopulmonary mortality.

Advance: This study linked risk factor data for approximately 500,000 persons with air pollution data for U.S. metropolitan areas. These data were combined with cause of death data. Fine particulate matter and sulfur dioxide pollution were associated with 4%, 6%, and 8% increases respectively in all-cause, cardiopulmonary, and lung cancer mortality.

Implication: This report shows that long-term exposure to combustion-related air pollution is an important environmental risk factor for cardiopulmonary and lung cancer mortality. This exposure is common in many metropolitan areas in the U.S. This study provides the strongest evidence yet for these effects which are observed after controlling for cigarette smoking, diet, occupational exposures, and other risk factors.

Citation: Pope CA 3rd, Burnett RT, Thun MJ, Calle EE, Krewski D, Ito K, Thurston GD. Lung cancer, cardiopulmonary mortality, and long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution. JAMA. 2002 Mar 6;287(9):1132-41. Department of Health & Human Services National Institutes of Health
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