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Air pollution and health: emerging information on susceptible populations

Abstract

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.

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Abbreviations

ANS:

Autonomic nervous system

BC:

Black carbon

CAPS:

Concentrated ambient air particles

COPD:

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

CVD:

Cardiovascular

EC:

Elemental carbon

EPHX1:

Microsomal epoxide hydrolase

HMOX1:

Heme oxygenase

HRV:

Heart rate variability

MI:

Myocardial infarction

NMMAPS:

National Morbidity, Mortality, and Air Pollution Study

PM:

Particulate matter

UFPs:

Ultrafine particles

WHO:

World Health Organization

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Acknowledgments

Support for this work was provided by grants R01 ES016932, P30 ES007048, P01 ES009581, and K01 ES017801 from the U.S. National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Marie S. O’Neill.

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O’Neill, M.S., Breton, C.V., Devlin, R.B. et al. Air pollution and health: emerging information on susceptible populations. Air Qual Atmos Health 5, 189–201 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11869-011-0150-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11869-011-0150-7

Keywords

  • Outdoor air
  • Particulate matter
  • Susceptible populations
  • Genetics
  • Diabetes