Continuous exposure to ambient air pollution and chronic diseases: prevalence, burden, and economic costs

Rev Environ Health. 2020 Apr 22;35(4):379-399. doi: 10.1515/reveh-2019-0106. Print 2020 Nov 18.


Studies that assess the connection between the prevalence of chronic diseases and continuous exposure to air pollution are scarce in developing countries, mainly due to data limitations. Largely overcoming data limitations, this study aimed to investigate the association between the likelihood of reporting a set of chronic diseases (diabetes, cancer, stroke and myocardial infarction, asthma, and hypertension) and continuous exposure to carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), ozone (O3), and coarse particulate matter (PM10). Using the estimated associations, the disease burden and economic costs of continuous exposure to air pollutants were also approximated. A 2011 Health Equity Assessment and Response Tool survey from Tehran, Iran, was used in the main analyses. A sample of 67,049 individuals who had not changed their place of residence for at least 2 years before the survey and reported all relevant socioeconomic information was selected. The individuals were assigned with the average monthly air pollutant levels of the nearest of 16 air quality monitors during the 2 years leading to the survey. Both single- and multi-pollutant analyses were conducted. The country's annual household surveys from 2002 to 2011 were used to calculate the associated economic losses. The single-pollutant analysis showed that a one-unit increase in monthly CO (ppm), NO2 (ppb), O3 (ppb), and PM10 (μg/m3) during the 2 years was associated with 751 [confidence interval (CI): 512-990], 18 (CI: 12-24), 46 (CI: -27-120), and 24 (CI: 13-35) more reported chronic diseases in 100,000, respectively. The disease-specific analyses showed that a unit change in average monthly CO was associated with 329, 321, 232, and 129 more reported cases of diabetes, hypertension, stroke and myocardial infarction, and asthma in 100,000, respectively. The measured associations were greater in samples with older individuals. Also, a unit change in average monthly O3 was associated with 21 (in 100,000) more reported cases of asthma. The multi-pollutant analyses confirmed the results from single-pollutant analyses. The supplementary analyses showed that a one-unit decrease in monthly CO level could have been associated with about 208 (CI: 147-275) years of life gained or 15.195 (CI: 10.296-20.094) thousand US dollars (USD) in life-time labor market income gained per 100,000 30-plus-year-old Tehranis.

Keywords: ambient air pollution; burden of disease; chronic disease; continuous exposure; economic cost.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollutants / economics
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollution / economics
  • Carbon Monoxide / adverse effects*
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology*
  • Cities
  • Cost of Illness*
  • Iran / epidemiology
  • Nitrogen Dioxide / adverse effects
  • Ozone / adverse effects
  • Particulate Matter / adverse effects
  • Prevalence


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter
  • Ozone
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Nitrogen Dioxide