Analysing the health effects of simultaneous exposure to physical and chemical properties of airborne particles

Environ Int. 2015 Jun;79:56-64. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2015.02.010. Epub 2015 Mar 19.


Background: Airborne particles are a complex mix of organic and inorganic compounds, with a range of physical and chemical properties. Estimation of how simultaneous exposure to air particles affects the risk of adverse health response represents a challenge for scientific research and air quality management. In this paper, we present a Bayesian approach that can tackle this problem within the framework of time series analysis.

Methods: We used Dirichlet process mixture models to cluster time points with similar multipollutant and response profiles, while adjusting for seasonal cycles, trends and temporal components. Inference was carried out via Markov Chain Monte Carlo methods. We illustrated our approach using daily data of a range of particle metrics and respiratory mortality for London (UK) 2002-2005. To better quantify the average health impact of these particles, we measured the same set of metrics in 2012, and we computed and compared the posterior predictive distributions of mortality under the exposure scenario in 2012 vs 2005.

Results: The model resulted in a partition of the days into three clusters. We found a relative risk of 1.02 (95% credible intervals (CI): 1.00, 1.04) for respiratory mortality associated with days characterised by high posterior estimates of non-primary particles, especially nitrate and sulphate. We found a consistent reduction in the airborne particles in 2012 vs 2005 and the analysis of the posterior predictive distributions of respiratory mortality suggested an average annual decrease of -3.5% (95% CI: -0.12%, -5.74%).

Conclusions: We proposed an effective approach that enabled the better understanding of hidden structures in multipollutant health effects within time series analysis. It allowed the identification of exposure metrics associated with respiratory mortality and provided a tool to assess the changes in health effects from various policies to control the ambient particle matter mixtures.

Keywords: Airborne particles; Bayesian inference; Dirichlet process mixture model; Respiratory mortality; Time series.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollution / analysis
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Humans
  • London / epidemiology
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Nitrogen Oxides / analysis
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Particulate Matter / toxicity*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Respiration Disorders / etiology*
  • Respiration Disorders / mortality
  • Risk Factors
  • Sulfates / analysis


  • Air Pollutants
  • Nitrogen Oxides
  • Particulate Matter
  • Sulfates