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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Harvard: Short-term Exposure to Air Pollution Linked with New Causes of Hospital Admissions, Substantial Economic Costs

According to a comprehensive new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, hospitalizations for several common diseases — including septicemia (serious bloodstream infection), 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 (PM2.5).

In addition, the study found that even small increases in PM2.5 exposure were linked with substantial health care and economic costs.

The study will be published online November 27 in BMJ.

“The study shows that the health dangers and economic impacts of air pollution are significantly larger than previously understood,” said Mr. Yaguang Wei, a doctoral candidate at Harvard Chan School and lead author of the study.

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.

“Our results raise awareness of the continued importance of assessing the impact of air pollution exposure. The strong evidence of a link between exposure to PM2.5 and many diseases, even at levels below the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline and, nationally, the National Ambient Air Quality Standards in the U.S., suggests that both sets of guidelines should be reviewed and updated,” said Dr. Francesca Dominici, professor of biostatistics at Harvard Chan School and principal investigator of the study.

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