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Long-term exposure to ambient ultrafine particles and respiratory disease incidence in in Toronto, Canada: a cohort study


Background — Little is known about the long-term health effects of ambient ultrafine particles (<0.1 μm) (UFPs) including their association with respiratory disease incidence. In this study, we examined the relationship between long-term exposure to ambient UFPs and the incidence of lung cancer, adult-onset asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Methods — Our study cohort included approximately 1.1 million adults who resided in Toronto, Canada and who were followed for disease incidence between 1996 and 2012. UFP exposures were assigned to residential locations using a land use regression model. Random-effect Cox proportional hazard models were used to estimate hazard ratios (HRs) describing the association between ambient UFPs and respiratory disease incidence adjusting for ambient fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5), NO2, and other individual/neighbourhood-level covariates.

Results — In total, 74,543 incident cases of COPD, 87,141 cases of asthma, and 12,908 cases of lung cancer were observed during follow-up period. In single pollutant models, each interquartile increase in ambient UFPs was associated with incident COPD (HR = 1.06, 95% CI: 1.05, 1.09) but not asthma (HR = 1.00, 95% CI: 1.00, 1.01) or lung cancer (HR = 1.00, 95% CI: 0.97, 1.03). Additional adjustment for NO2 attenuated the association between UFPs and COPD and the HR was no longer elevated (HR = 1.01, 95% CI: 0.98, 1.03). PM2.5 and NO2 were each associated with increased incidence of all three outcomes but risk estimates for lung cancer were sensitive to indirect adjustment for smoking and body mass index.

Conclusions — In general, we did not observe clear evidence of positive associations between long-term exposure to ambient UFPs and respiratory disease incidence independent of other air pollutants. Further replication is required as few studies have evaluated these relationships.



Weichenthal S, Bai L, Hatzopoulou M, Van Ryswyk K, Kwong JC, Jerrett M, van Donkelaar A, Martin RV, Burnett RT, Lu H, Chen H. Environ Health. 2017; 16(1):64.

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