Long-term pollution exposure may cause more hospitalizations

Study links pollutant to increase in chronic disease admissions

Older adults may face an increased risk of hospitalization for heart and lung disease, stroke, and diabetes as a result of long-term exposure to air pollution, according to a study in PLoS One.

For the study, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health compared air quality data with hospital admission records for Medicare patients at 3000 hospitals across New England between 2002 and 2006. Specifically, they examined concentration levels of PM2.5, an air particle less than 2.5 microns in diameter that can settle in the lungs and cause inflammation. PM2.5 is emitted by vehicles, power plants, wood burning, and some industrial processes.

Results indicated that an increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of long-term PM2.5 exposure led to jumps in hospital admissions for diabetes, respiratory issues, strokes, and cardiovascular disease ranging in size from 3-6%. According to lead author Itai Kloog, “Our study found that long-term rates of admissions for pneumonia, heart attacks, strokes and diabetes are higher in locations with higher long-term average particle concentrations."

Senior author Joel Schwartz said, “Off-the-shelf technology can be retrofitted onto sources of pollution at modest cost, with a large health benefit. This study shows that in addition to avoiding deaths, such measures will reduce chronic disease and medical care costs” (Preidt, HealthDay, 4/18).

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