Investigating regional differences in short-term effects of air pollution on daily mortality in the APHEA project: a sensitivity analysis for controlling long-term trends and seasonality

Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Apr;109(4):349-53. doi: 10.1289/ehp.01109349.


Short-term effects of air pollution on daily mortality in eight western and five central-eastern European countries have been reported previously, as part of the APHEA project. One intriguing finding was that the effects were lower in central-eastern European cities. The analysis used sinusoidal terms for seasonal control and polynomial terms for meteorologic variables, but this is a more rigid approach than the currently accepted method, which uses generalized additive models (GAM). We therefore reanalyzed the original data to examine the sensitivity of the results to the statistical model. The data were identical to those used in the earlier analyses. The outcome was the daily total number of deaths, and the pollutants analyzed were black smoke (BS) and sulfur dioxide (SO(2)). The analyses were restricted to days with pollutant concentration < 200 microg/m(3) and < 150 microg/m(3) alternately. We used Poisson regression in a GAM model, and combined individual city regression coefficients using fixed and random-effect models. An increase in BS by 50 microg/m(3) was associated with a 2.2% and 3.1% increase in mortality when analysis was restricted to days < 200 microg/m(3) and < 150 microg/m(3), respectively. The corresponding figures were 5.0% and 5.6% for a similar increase in SO(2). These estimates are larger than the ones published previously: by 69% for BS and 55% for SO(2). The increase occurred only in central-eastern European cities. The ratio of western to central-eastern cities for estimates was reduced to 1.3 for BS (previously 4.8) and 2.6 for SO(2) (previously 4.4). We conclude that part of the heterogeneity in the estimates of air pollution effects between western and central-eastern cities reported in previous publications was caused by the statistical approach used and the inclusion of days with pollutant levels above 150 microg/m(3). However, these results must be investigated further.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Seasons
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sulfur Dioxide / adverse effects
  • Weather


  • Air Pollutants
  • Sulfur Dioxide