Chronic exposure to fine particles and mortality: an extended follow-up of the Harvard Six Cities study from 1974 to 2009

Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Jul;120(7):965-70. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1104660. Epub 2012 Mar 28.


Background: Epidemiologic studies have reported associations between fine particles (aerodynamic diameter ≤ 2.5 µm; PM2.5) and mortality. However, concerns have been raised regarding the sensitivity of the results to model specifications, lower exposures, and averaging time.

Objective: We addressed these issues using 11 additional years of follow-up of the Harvard Six Cities study, incorporating recent lower exposures.

Methods: We replicated the previously applied Cox regression, and examined different time lags, the shape of the concentration-response relationship using penalized splines, and changes in the slope of the relation over time. We then conducted Poisson survival analysis with time-varying effects for smoking, sex, and education.

Results: Since 2001, average PM2.5 levels, for all six cities, were < 18 µg/m3. Each increase in PM2.5 (10 µg/m3) was associated with an adjusted increased risk of all-cause mortality (PM2.5 average on previous year) of 14% [95% confidence interval (CI): 7, 22], and with 26% (95% CI: 14, 40) and 37% (95% CI: 7, 75) increases in cardiovascular and lung-cancer mortality (PM2.5 average of three previous years), respectively. The concentration-response relationship was linear down to PM2.5 concentrations of 8 µg/m3. Mortality rate ratios for PM2.5 fluctuated over time, but without clear trends despite a substantial drop in the sulfate fraction. Poisson models produced similar results.

Conclusions: These results suggest that further public policy efforts that reduce fine particulate matter air pollution are likely to have continuing public health benefits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Cities
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Particulate Matter / toxicity
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Public Health


  • Particulate Matter