Air pollution linked with several new causes of hospital admissions

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Hospitalizations for several common diseases, including septicemia, fluid and electrolyte disorders, renal failure, urinary tract infections, and skin and tissue infections, have been linked for the first time with short-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution, according to a new study by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts and published online in The BMJ.

Fine particulate air pollution is composed of tiny solids and liquids floating in the air that come from sources such as motor vehicles, coal-fired power plants, and wildfires. Previous studies have shown that, when inhaled, the particles can enter deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems.

Researchers classified the diseases into 214 disease groups. They then analyzed 13 years' worth of hospital admissions records, from 2000 to 2012, from more than 95 million inpatient hospital claims for Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older. To estimate daily fine particulate air pollution levels across the U.S., researchers used a computer model that predicts exposure using satellite-based measurements and a computer simulation of air pollution. They then matched the fine particulate air pollution data with the zip codes of study participants.

In addition to showing that short-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution was associated with several newly identified causes of hospital admissions among older adults, the study confirmed previously identified associations between short-term exposure and hospitalization risk for a number of other ailments, including several cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, Parkinson's disease, and diabetes.

Notably, all the associations remained consistent even on days when daily fine particulate air pollution levels were below the World Health Organization air quality guideline.