Background: Traffic-related air pollution is a potential risk factor for human respiratory health. A Geographical Information System (GIS) approach was used to examine whether distance from a main road (the Tosco-Romagnola road) affected respiratory health status.
Methods: We used data collected during an epidemiological survey performed in the Pisa-Cascina area (central Italy) in the period 1991-93. A total of 2841 subjects participated in the survey and filled out a standardized questionnaire on health status, socio-demographic information, and personal habits. A variable proportion of subjects performed lung function and allergy tests. Highly exposed subjects were defined as those living within 100 m of the main road, moderately exposed as those living between 100 and 250 m from the road, and unexposed as those living between 250 and 800 m from the road. Statistical analyses were conducted to compare the risks for respiratory symptoms and diseases between exposed and unexposed. All analyses were stratified by gender.
Results: The study comprised 2062 subjects: mean age was 45.9 years for men and 48.9 years for women. Compared to subjects living between 250 m and 800 m from the main road, subjects living within 100 m of the main road had increased adjusted risks for persistent wheeze (OR = 1.76, 95% CI = 1.08-2.87), COPD diagnosis (OR = 1.80, 95% CI = 1.03-3.08), and reduced FEV1/FVC ratio (OR = 2.07, 95% CI = 1.11-3.87) among males, and for dyspnea (OR = 1.61, 95% CI = 1.13-2.27), positivity to skin prick test (OR = 1.83, 95% CI = 1.11-3.00), asthma diagnosis (OR = 1.68, 95% CI = 0.97-2.88) and attacks of shortness of breath with wheeze (OR = 1.67, 95% CI = 0.98-2.84) among females.
Conclusion: This study points out the potential effects of traffic-related air pollution on respiratory health status, including lung function impairment. It also highlights the added value of GIS in environmental health research.