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Cardiac and Respiratory Effects of Fine Particulate Air Pollution on the Elderly

Jane Q. Koenig, Ph.D.
University of Washington

Background: A growing body of scientific evidence points to the risk of adverse cardiac and respiratory events after exposure to fine particulate air pollution at levels seen regularly in the urban environments. The elderly and people with predisposing conditions are thought to be especially sensitive; however studies among sensitive subgroups have been inconsistent. These NIEHS-supported researchers sought to determine relationships between particulate air pollution exposure and cardiorespiratory effects in older subjects.

Advance: The study consisted of 88 subjects over 57 years of age monitored over a two-year period. Some subjects were health while some had cardiac or respiratory diseases. Arterial oxygen saturation and heart rate and blood pressure were measured. Associations between air pollution and health outcomes were found primarily in the healthy subjects. Healthy subjects had decreases in heart rate associated with both indoor and outdoor particulate matter. There were no observed effects of arterial oxygen saturation.

Implications: Although the effects of this study were small, consistent particulate mater -associated effects in heart rate were found in elderly subjects without cardiac or respiratory disease. The authors conclude that the oxygen saturation of arterial blood is not affected by modest exposure to particulate matter air pollution. However, the effects on heart rate add new information on the adverse health effects of fine particles.

Citation: Mar TF, Koenig JQ, Jansen K, Sullivan J, Kaufman J, Trenga CA, Siahpush SH, Liu LJ, Neas L. Fine particulate air pollution and cardiorespiratory effects in the elderly. Epidemiology. 2005 Sep;16(5):681-7. Department of Health & Human Services National Institutes of Health
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Last Reviewed: May 15, 2007