Short-term and long-term exposures to fine particulate matter constituents and health: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Environ Pollut. 2019 Apr;247:874-882. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2018.12.060. Epub 2018 Dec 21.


Background: Fine particulate matter (Particulate matter with diameter ≤ 2.5 μm) is associated with multiple health outcomes, with varying effects across seasons and locations. It remains largely unknown that which components of PM2.5 are most harmful to human health.

Methods: We systematically searched all the relevent studies published before August 1, 2018, on the associations of fine particulate matter constituents with mortality and morbidity, using Web of Science, MEDLINE, PubMed and EMBASE. Studies were included if they explored the associations between short term or long term exposure of fine particulate matter constituents and natural, cardiovascular or respiratory health endpoints. The criteria for the risk of bias was adapted from OHAT and New Castle Ottawa. We applied a random-effects model to derive the risk estimates for each constituent. We performed main analyses restricted to studies which adjusted the PM2.5 mass in their models.

Results: Significant associations were observed between several PM2.5 constituents and different health endpoints. Among them, black carbon and organic carbon were most robustly and consistently associated with all natural, cardiovascular mortality and morbidity. Other potential toxic constituents including nitrate, sulfate, Zinc, silicon, iron, nickel, vanadium, and potassium were associated with adverse cardiovascular health, while nitrate, sulfate and vanadium were relevant for adverse respiratory health outcomes.

Conclusions: Our analysis suggests that black carbon and organic carbon are important detrimental components of PM2.5, while other constituents are probably hazardous to human health. However, more studies are needed to further confirm our results.

Keywords: Air pollution; Constituents of fine particulate matter; Morbidity; Mortality; PM(2.5).

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects
  • Air Pollution / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Nitrates
  • Particulate Matter / toxicity*
  • Seasons
  • Soot
  • Sulfates
  • Vanadium


  • Air Pollutants
  • Nitrates
  • Particulate Matter
  • Soot
  • Sulfates
  • Vanadium