Fine Particulate Matter and Emergency Room Visits for Respiratory Illness. Effect Modification by Oxidative Potential

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2016 Sep 1;194(5):577-86. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201512-2434OC.


Rationale: Fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5; particulate matter 2.5 μm or less in diameter) is thought to contribute to acute respiratory morbidity in part through oxidative stress.

Objectives: To examine the association between PM2.5 oxidative burden and emergency room visits for respiratory illnesses.

Methods: We conducted a case-crossover study in Ontario, Canada between 2004 and 2011, including 127,836 cases of asthma, 298,751 cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and more than 1.1 million cases of all respiratory illnesses. Daily air pollution data were collected from ground monitors, and city-level PM2.5 oxidative potential was measured on the basis of a synthetic respiratory tract lining fluid containing the antioxidants glutathione and ascorbate. Conditional logistic regression was used to estimate associations between air pollution concentrations and emergency room visits, adjusting for time-varying covariates.

Measurements and main results: Three-day mean PM2.5 concentrations were consistently associated with emergency room visits for all respiratory illnesses. Among children (<9 yr), each interquartile change (5.92 μg/m(3)) in 3-day mean PM2.5 was associated with a 7.2% (95% confidence interval, 4.2-10) increased risk of emergency room visits for asthma. Glutathione-related oxidative potential modified the impact of PM2.5 on emergency room visits for respiratory illnesses (P = 0.001) but only at low concentrations (≤10 μg/m(3)). Between-city differences in ascorbate-related oxidative potential did not modify the impact of PM2.5 on respiratory outcomes.

Conclusions: Between-city differences in glutathione-related oxidative potential may modify the impact of PM2.5 on acute respiratory illnesses at low PM2.5 concentrations. This may explain in part how small changes in ambient PM2.5 mass concentrations can contribute to acute respiratory morbidity in low-pollution environments.

Keywords: asthma; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; oxidative stress; particulate air pollution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Asthma / complications*
  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Disease Progression
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Glutathione / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology*
  • Particulate Matter / adverse effects*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / complications*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / complications
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / etiology


  • Particulate Matter
  • Glutathione