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The effects of particulate matter air pollution on respiratory health and on the cardiovascular system

Particulate matter (PM) is a major component of urban air pollution and has a significant effect on human health. Natural PM sources are volcanic eruptions, dust storms, forest and grassland fires, living vegetation and sea spray. Traffic, domestic heating, power plants and various industrial processes generate significant amounts of anthropogenic PM. PM consists of a complex mixture of solid and liquid particles of organic and inorganic substances suspended in the air. The chemical composition of particles is very complex and depends on emission sources, meteorological conditions and their aerodynamic diameter. Several epidemiological studies have demonstrated that exposure to PM of varying size fractions is associated with an increased risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Adverse health effects have been documented from studies of both acute and chronic exposure. The most severe effects in terms of overall health burden include a significant reduction in life expectancy by a several months for the average population, which is linked to long-term exposure to moderate concentrations of PM. Nevertheless, numerous deaths and serious cardiovascular and respiratory problems have also been attributed to short-term exposure to peak levels of PM. Although many studies attribute greater toxicity to smaller size fractions, which are able to penetrate deeper into the lung, the molecular mechanisms and the size fractions of the PM that are responsible for the observed diseases are not completely understood.

Abstract

Aim: The aim of our study was to assess the temporal association between the number of consultations in the primary health care unit due to respiratory diseases in children and the level of particular matter of 10 micrometres in diameter (PM10) pollution in the Zasavje region.

Methods: A time-trend ecological study was carried out for the period between 1 January 2006 and 31 December 2011. The daily number of first consultations for respiratory diseases among children in the Zasavje region was observed as the outcome. Poisson regression analysis was used to investigate the association between the observed outcome and the daily PM10 concentrations, adjusted to other covariates.

Results: The results showed that the daily number of first consultations were highly significantly associated with the daily concentrations of PM10 in the Zagorje (p<0.001) and Trbovlje (p<0.001) municipalities. In the Hrastnik municipality, a significant association was not observed in all models.

Conclusions: It can be concluded that evidence of association between the daily PM10 concentration and the daily number of first consultations for respiratory diseases among children exists, indicating that there is still a need for public health activities in the sense of reduction of harmful environmental factors in the region. Additionally, on the basis of these results, it can be assumed that with some improvements linkage of existing health and environmental data in Slovenia in general could be feasible in identifying a grounded need for future public health action.

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