Evaluating the Sensitivity of PM2.5-Mortality Associations to the Spatial and Temporal Scale of Exposure Assessment

Epidemiology. 2020 Mar;31(2):168-176. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000001136.


Background: The temporal and spatial scales of exposure assessment may influence observed associations between fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) and mortality, but few studies have systematically examined this question.

Methods: We followed 2.4 million adults in the 2001 Canadian Census Health and Environment Cohort for nonaccidental and cause-specific mortality between 2001 and 2011. We assigned PM2.5 exposures to residential locations using satellite-based estimates and compared three different temporal moving averages (1, 3, and 8 years) and three spatial scales (1, 5, and 10 km) of exposure assignment. In addition, we examined different spatial scales based on age, employment status, and urban/rural location, and adjustment for O3, NO2, or their combined oxidant capacity (Ox).

Results: In general, longer moving averages resulted in stronger associations between PM2.5 and mortality. For nonaccidental mortality, we observed a hazard ratio of 1.11 (95% CI = 1.08, 1.13) for the 1-year moving average compared with 1.23 (95% CI = 1.20, 1.27) for the 8-year moving average. Respiratory and lung cancer mortality were most sensitive to the spatial scale of exposure assessment with stronger associations observed at smaller spatial scales. Adjustment for oxidant gases attenuated associations between PM2.5 and cardiovascular mortality and strengthened associations with lung cancer. Despite these variations, PM2.5 was associated with increased mortality in nearly all of the models examined.

Conclusions: These findings support a relationship between outdoor PM2.5 and mortality at low concentrations and highlight the importance of longer-exposure windows, more spatially resolved exposure metrics, and adjustment for oxidant gases in characterizing this relationship.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollution* / adverse effects
  • Air Pollution* / analysis
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Exposure* / adverse effects
  • Environmental Exposure* / analysis
  • Humans
  • Mortality* / trends
  • Particulate Matter* / adverse effects
  • Particulate Matter* / analysis
  • Spatio-Temporal Analysis


  • Particulate Matter