Elderly Have Higher Risk for Cardiovascular, Respiratory Disease From Fine Particle Pollution

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Elderly Health Risks

New data from a four-year study of 11.5 million Medicare enrollees show that short-term exposure to fine particle air pollution from such sources as motor vehicle exhaust and power plant emissions significantly increases the risk for cardiovascular and respiratory disease among people over 65 years of age. The study, funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a component of the National Institutes of Health, is the largest ever conducted on the link between fine particle air pollution and hospital admissions for heart- and lung-related illnesses.

The study results show that small increases in fine particle air pollution resulted in increased hospital admissions for heart and vascular disease, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and respiratory infection. "The data show that study participants over 75 years of age experienced even greater increases in admissions for heart problems and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than those between 65 and 74 years of age," said National Institutes of Health Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.

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The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provided funding to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health for the study. The study results are published in the March 8, 2006 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

According to the study, these findings document an ongoing threat from airborne particles to the health of the elderly, and provide a strong rationale for setting a national air quality standard that is as protective of their health as possible.

"These findings provide compelling evidence that fine particle concentrations well below the national standard are harmful to the cardiovascular and respiratory health of our elderly citizens," said NIEHS Director David A. Schwartz, M.D. "Now that the link between inhaled particles and adverse health effects has been established, we must focus our efforts on understanding why these particles are harmful, and how these effects can be prevented."

Fine particle air pollution consists of microscopic particles of dust and soot less than 2.5 microns in diameter

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