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Long-term exposure to air pollution and mortality in a prospective cohort: The Ontario Health Study

Zhang Z, Wang J, Kwong JC, Burnett RT, van Donkelaar A, Hystad P, Martin RV, Bai L, McLaughlin J, Chen H. Environ Int. 2021; Apr 23 [Epub ahead of print]. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2021.106570


Background — Air pollution has been associated with increased mortality. However, updated evidence from cohort studies with detailed information on various risk factors is needed, especially in regions with low air pollution levels. We investigated the associations between long-term exposure to air pollution and mortality in a prospective cohort.

Methods — We studied 88,615 participants aged ≥30 years from an ongoing cohort study in Ontario, Canada from 2009 to 2017. Exposure to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was estimated at participants' residence. Cox proportional hazard models were used to investigate the associations between air pollution and non-accidental, cardiovascular, and respiratory mortality, adjusted for a wide array of individual-level and contextual covariates. Potential effect modification by socio-demographic and behavioral factors was also examined in exploratory stratified analyses.

Results — The fully adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) per 1 µg/m3 increment in PM2.5 were 1.037 [95% confidence interval (CI): 1.018, 1.057]¸ 1.083 (95% CI: 1.040, 1.128) and 1.109 (95% CI: 1.035, 1.187) for non-accidental, cardiovascular, and respiratory mortality, respectively. Positive associations were also found for NO2; the corresponding HRs per 1 ppb increment were 1.027 (95% CI: 1.021, 1.034), 1.032 (95% CI: 1.019, 1.046) and 1.044 (95% CI: 1.020, 1.068). We found suggestive evidence of stronger associations in physically active participants, smokers, and those with lower household income.

Conclusions — Long-term exposure to PM2.5 and NO2 was associated with increased risks for non-accidental, cardiovascular, and respiratory mortality, suggesting potential benefits of further improvement in air quality even in low-exposure environments.

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