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Historic Exposure Increases Air Pollution Risk

February 9, 2016
Public Health

Research carried out at University College London suggests that exposure to poor air quality over 30 years ago may still affect mortality rates today. The study looked at 368,000 people in England and Wales over a 38-year period. Exposures were estimated using historic data from air pollution monitoring networks in the areas where individuals lived in 1971, 1981, 1991 and 2001.

Dr Anna Hansell, lead author of the study, from the MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health at Imperial, said: “Air pollution has well established impacts on health, especially on heart and lung disease. The novel aspects of our study are the very long follow-up time and the very detailed assessment of air pollution exposure, using air quality measurements going back to the 1970’s. Our study found more recent exposures were more important for mortality risk than historic exposures, but we need to do more work on how air pollution affects health over a person’s entire lifetime.”

Published in the journal Thorax, the research looked at levels of black smoke and sulphur dioxide from 1971 to 1991 then concentrating on PM10 for the final 20 years of the study. Pollution exposures were reported in units of 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

The results showed that when compared to more recent exposures between 2002 and 2009, there was a 24% increase in mortality for every unit of pollution people were exposed to in 2001. There has been little change in 45 years, with people living in areas of high air pollution still having a 14% higher risk of death than those in the least polluted regions.

You can download a full copy of the study HERE.