Combustion-Derived Particulate PAHs Associated with Small Airway Dysfunction in Elderly Patients with COPD

Environ Sci Technol. 2022 Aug 2;56(15):10868-10878. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.2c00797. Epub 2022 Jul 14.


Evidence of the respiratory effects of ambient organic aerosols (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs) among patients with chronic diseases is limited. We aimed to assess whether exposure to ambient particle-bound PAHs could worsen small airway functions in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and elucidate the underlying mechanisms involved. Forty-five COPD patients were recruited with four repeated visits in 2014-2015 in Beijing, China. Parameters of pulmonary function and pulmonary/systemic inflammation and oxidative stress were measured at each visit. Linear mixed-effect models were performed to evaluate the associations between PAHs and measurements. In this study, participants experienced an average PAH level of 61.7 ng/m3. Interquartile range increases in exposure to particulate PAHs at prior up to 7 days were associated with reduced small airway functions, namely, decreases of 17.7-35.5% in forced maximal mid-expiratory flow. Higher levels of particulate PAHs were also associated with heightened lung injury and inflammation and oxidative stress. Stronger overall effects were found for PAHs from traffic emissions and coal burning. Exposure to ambient particulate PAHs was capable of impairing small airway functions in elderly patients with COPD, potentially via inflammation and oxidative stress. These findings highlight the importance of control efforts on organic particulate matter from fossil fuel combustion emissions.

Keywords: COPD; inflammation; oxidative stress; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; small airway function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Air Pollutants* / analysis
  • China
  • Coal
  • Dust
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons* / analysis
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive*
  • Respiratory Aerosols and Droplets


  • Air Pollutants
  • Coal
  • Dust
  • Particulate Matter
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons