Background: Air pollution is known to be a leading cause of respiratory symptoms. Many cross-sectional studies reported that air pollution caused respiratory disease in Japanese individuals in the 1960s. Japan has laws regulating air pollution levels and providing compensation for victims of pollution-related respiratory disease. However, long-term changes in respiratory function and symptoms in individuals who were exposed to air pollution in the 1960s have not been well studied. This study aimed to investigate longitudinal respiratory function and symptoms in older, non-smoking, long-term officially-acknowledged victims of pollution-related illness.
Methods: The study included 563 officially-acknowledged victims of pollution-related illness living in Kurashiki, Okayama who were aged ≥ 65 years in 2009. Data were retrospectively collected from yearly respiratory symptom questionnaires and spirometry examinations conducted from 2000 to 2009.
Results: Respiratory function declined significantly from 2000 to 2009 (p < 0.01), but the mean annual changes were relatively small. The change in mean vital capacity was -40.5 ml/year in males and -32.7 ml/year in females, and the change in mean forced expiratory volume in 1 second was -27.6 ml/year in males and -23.9 ml/year in females. Dyspnea was the only symptom that worsened significantly from 2000 to 2009 in both sexes (males: p < 0.05, females: p < 0.01).
Conclusions: Our results suggest that the high concentrations of air pollutants around 1970 resulted in a decrease in respiratory function and an increase in respiratory symptoms in the study population. From 2000 to 2009, the mean annual changes in respiratory function were within the normal range, even though the severity of dyspnea worsened. The changes in respiratory function and symptoms over the study period were probably due to aging. The laws governing air pollution levels and providing compensation for officially-acknowledged victims of pollution-related illness in Japan may be effective for respiratory disease cause by pollution.