Background: Short-term exposure to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations has been associated with increased mortality and morbidity. Determining which sources of PM2.5 are most toxic can help guide targeted reduction of PM2.5. However, conducting multicity epidemiologic studies of sources is difficult because source-specific PM2.5 is not directly measured, and source chemical compositions can vary between cities.
Objectives: We determined how the chemical composition of primary ambient PM2.5 sources varies across cities. We estimated associations between source-specific PM2.5 and respiratory disease emergency department (ED) visits and examined between-city heterogeneity in estimated associations.
Methods: We used source apportionment to estimate daily concentrations of primary source-specific PM2.5 for four U.S. cities. For sources with similar chemical compositions between cities, we applied Poisson time-series regression models to estimate associations between source-specific PM2.5 and respiratory disease ED visits.
Results: We found that PM2.5 from biomass burning, diesel vehicle, gasoline vehicle, and dust sources was similar in chemical composition between cities, but PM2.5 from coal combustion and metal sources varied across cities. We found some evidence of positive associations of respiratory disease ED visits with biomass burning PM2.5; associations with diesel and gasoline PM2.5 were frequently imprecise or consistent with the null. We found little evidence of associations with dust PM2.5.
Conclusions: We introduced an approach for comparing the chemical compositions of PM2.5 sources across cities and conducted one of the first multicity studies of source-specific PM2.5 and ED visits. Across four U.S. cities, among the primary PM2.5 sources assessed, biomass burning PM2.5 was most strongly associated with respiratory health. Citation: Krall JR, Mulholland JA, Russell AG, Balachandran S, Winquist A, Tolbert PE, Waller LA, Sarnat SE. 2017. Associations between source-specific fine particulate matter and emergency department visits for respiratory disease in four U.S. cities. Environ Health Perspect 125:97-103; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/EHP271.