Susceptibility of older adults to health effects induced by ambient air pollutants regulated by the European Union and the United States

  • Kathryn L. Shumake
  • Jason D. SacksEmail author
  • Janice S. Lee
  • Douglas O. Johns
Mini Review


Air pollution is a health concern for the general population, but a few subpopulations (e.g. children, individuals with preexisting cardiovascular or respiratory diseases, etc.) are considered more susceptible to the adverse health effects attributed to air pollution. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that older adults (≥65 years old) are more susceptible to air pollution-induced health effects compared to younger adults due to decreased physiological, metabolic and compensatory processes, and a greater incidence of cardiovascular and respiratory disease. This review examines health effects induced by exposures to common ambient air pollutants regulated by the European Union and the United States. Studies were evaluated that examined the potential susceptibility of older adults to air pollutant-induced health effects. This review focuses on epidemiologic studies that directly compared the health effects of older adults to younger adults and/or the general population in order to compare populations within the same study design. Supplementary information is used from controlled human exposure studies, which examined only older adults, and animal toxicological studies, which utilized animal models of senescence, to provide coherence and biological plausibility for the health effects observed in epidemiologic studies. Overall, evidence from available published studies demonstrates that older adults may be more susceptible to air pollution-induced health effects than younger adults and/or the general population. Clinicians and other health professionals should consider advising older adults on pollution-avoiding behaviors in order to decrease the risk of adverse air pollution-related health effects.


Air pollution Elderly Aged Cardiovascular diseases Respiratory diseases Particulate matter 



This work was supported in part by an appointment to the Research Participation Program for the US Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education through an interagency agreement between the US Department of Energy and the EPA. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the US EPA.

Conflict of interest



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathryn L. Shumake
    • 1
  • Jason D. Sacks
    • 2
    Email author
  • Janice S. Lee
    • 2
  • Douglas O. Johns
    • 2
  1. 1.Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, at National Center for Environmental Assessment, Office of Research and DevelopmentUS Environmental Protection AgencyResearch Triangle ParkUSA
  2. 2.National Center for Environmental Assessment, Office of Research and DevelopmentUS Environmental Protection AgencyResearch Triangle ParkUSA

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