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OBJECTIVES—There is considerable evidence linking ambient particles measured as particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter <10 µm (PM10) to daily mortality and hospital admissions but it is not clear which physical or chemical components of the particle mixture are responsible. The relative effects of fine particles (PM2.5), coarse particles (PM2.5-10), black smoke (mainly fine particles of primary origin) and sulphate (mainly fine particles of secondary origin) were investigated, together with ozone, SO2, NO2, and CO, on daily mortality and hospital admissions in the west Midlands conurbation of the United Kingdom.
METHODS—Time series of health outcome and environmental data were obtained for the period 1994-6. The relative risk of death or hospital admission was estimated with regression techniques, controlling for long term time trends, seasonal patterns, influenza epidemics, effects of day of the week, and temperature and humidity. Models were adjusted for any remaining residual serial correlation and overdispersion. The sensitivities of the estimates for the effects of pollution to the inclusion of a second pollutant and seasonal interactions (warm or cool) were also examined.
RESULTS—Daily all cause mortality was not associated with any gaseous or particulate air pollutant in the all year analysis, although all measures of particles apart from PM2.5-10 showed significant positive effects of the warm season. Neither respiratory nor cardiovascular admissions (all ages) were associated with any air pollutant, and there were no important seasonal interactions. However, analysis of admissions by age found evidence for various associations—notably between PM10, PM2.5, black smoke, SO2, and ozone (negative) and respiratory admissions in the 0-14 age group. The coarse fraction, PM2.5-10 differed from PM2.5 in having smaller and less consistent associations (including several large significant negative associations) and a different lag distribution. The results for black smoke, an indicator of fine primary carbonaceous particles, were very similar to those for PM2.5, and tended to be more robust in two pollutant models. The effects of sulphate, an indicator of secondary particles, also showed some similarities to those of PM2.5.
CONCLUSIONS—Clear effects of air pollution on mortality and hospital admissions were difficult to discern except in certain age or diagnostic subgroups and seasonal analyses. It was also difficult to distinguish between different measures of particles. Within these limitations the results suggest that the active component of PM10 resides mostly in the fine fraction and that this is due mainly to primary particles from combustion (mainly vehicle) sources with a contribution from secondary particles. Effects of the coarse fraction cannot be excluded.
Keywords: air pollution particulates; mortality; hospital admissions