Black carbon as an additional indicator of the adverse health effects of airborne particles compared with PM10 and PM2.5

Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Dec;119(12):1691-9. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1003369. Epub 2011 Aug 2.


Background: Current air quality standards for particulate matter (PM) use the PM mass concentration [PM with aerodynamic diameters ≤ 10 μm (PM(10)) or ≤ 2.5 μm (PM(2.5))] as a metric. It has been suggested that particles from combustion sources are more relevant to human health than are particles from other sources, but the impact of policies directed at reducing PM from combustion processes is usually relatively small when effects are estimated for a reduction in the total mass concentration.

Objectives: We evaluated the value of black carbon particles (BCP) as an additional indicator in air quality management.

Methods: We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of health effects of BCP compared with PM mass based on data from time-series studies and cohort studies that measured both exposures. We compared the potential health benefits of a hypothetical traffic abatement measure, using near-roadway concentration increments of BCP and PM(2.5) based on data from prior studies.

Results: Estimated health effects of a 1-μg/m3 increase in exposure were greater for BCP than for PM(10) or PM(2.5), but estimated effects of an interquartile range increase were similar. Two-pollutant models in time-series studies suggested that the effect of BCP was more robust than the effect of PM mass. The estimated increase in life expectancy associated with a hypothetical traffic abatement measure was four to nine times higher when expressed in BCP compared with an equivalent change in PM(2.5) mass.

Conclusion: BCP is a valuable additional air quality indicator to evaluate the health risks of air quality dominated by primary combustion particles.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Particle Size
  • Particulate Matter / adverse effects*
  • Particulate Matter / standards*
  • Soot / adverse effects*
  • Soot / analysis
  • Vehicle Emissions / analysis
  • Vehicle Emissions / toxicity*


  • Particulate Matter
  • Soot
  • Vehicle Emissions