Epidemiology of fine particulate air pollution and human health: biologic mechanisms and who's at risk?

Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Aug;108 Suppl 4(Suppl 4):713-23. doi: 10.1289/ehp.108-1637679.


This article briefly summarizes the epidemiology of the health effects of fine particulate air pollution, provides an early, somewhat speculative, discussion of the contribution of epidemiology to evaluating biologic mechanisms, and evaluates who's at risk or is susceptible to adverse health effects. Based on preliminary epidemiologic evidence, it is speculated that a systemic response to fine particle-induced pulmonary inflammation, including cytokine release and altered cardiac autonomic function, may be part of the pathophysiologic mechanisms or pathways linking particulate pollution with cardiopulmonary disease. The elderly, infants, and persons with chronic cardiopulmonary disease, influenza, or asthma are most susceptible to mortality and serious morbidity effects from short-term acutely elevated exposures. Others are susceptible to less serious health effects such as transient increases in respiratory symptoms, decreased lung function, or other physiologic changes. Chronic exposure studies suggest relatively broad susceptibility to cumulative effects of long-term repeated exposure to fine particulate pollution, resulting in substantive estimates of population average loss of life expectancy in highly polluted environments. Additional knowledge is needed about the specific pollutants or mix of pollutants responsible for the adverse health effects and the biologic mechanisms involved.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / immunology
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Lung Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Lung Diseases / etiology
  • Lung Diseases / immunology
  • Particle Size
  • Risk Factors
  • United States