Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health

, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 189-201

First online:

Air pollution and health: emerging information on susceptible populations

  • Marie S. O’NeillAffiliated withSchool of Public Health, University of Michigan Email author 
  • , Carrie V. BretonAffiliated withDepartment of Preventive Medicine, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California
  • , Robert B. DevlinAffiliated withClinical Research Branch, Environmental Public Health Division, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • , Mark J. UtellAffiliated withDepartment of Medicine, University of Rochester Medical CenterDepartment of Environmental Medicine, University of Rochester Medical Center

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Outdoor air pollution poses risks to human health in communities around the world, and research on populations who are most susceptible continues to reveal new insights. Human susceptibility to adverse health effects from exposure to air pollution can be related to underlying disease; demographic or anthropometric characteristics; genetic profile; race and ethnicity; lifestyle, behaviors, and socioeconomic position; and location of residence or daily activities. In health research, an individual or group may have an enhanced responsiveness to a given, identical level of pollution exposure compared to those who are less susceptible. Or, people in these different groups may experience varying levels of exposure (for example, a theoretically homogeneous population whose members differ only by proximity to a road). Often the information available for health research may relate to both exposure and enhanced response to a given dose of pollution. This paper discusses the general direction of research on susceptibility to air pollution, with a general though not an exclusive focus on particulate matter, with specific examples of research on susceptibility related to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, and genetic and epigenetic features. We conclude by commenting how emerging knowledge of susceptibility can inform policy for controlling pollution sources and exposures to yield maximal health benefit and discuss two areas of emerging interest: studying air pollution and its connection to perinatal health, as well as land use and urban infrastructure design.


Outdoor air Particulate matter Susceptible populations Genetics Diabetes