Air pollution and emergency room visits for asthma in Santa Clara County, California

Environ Health Perspect. 1997 Feb;105(2):216-22. doi: 10.1289/ehp.97105216.


During the winters of 1986-1987 through 1991-1992, rainfall throughout much of Northern California was subnormal, resulting in intermittent accumulation of air pollution, much of which was attributable to residential wood combustion (RWC). This investigation examined whether there was a relationship between ambient air pollution in Santa Clara County, California and emergency room visits for asthma during the winters of 1988-1989 through 1991-1992. Emergency room (ER) records from three acute-care hospitals were abstracted to compile daily visits for asthma and a control diagnosis (gastroenteritis) for 3-month periods during each winter. Air monitoring data included daily coefficient of haze (COH) and every-other-day particulate matter with aerodynamic diameter equal to or less than 10 microns (PM10, 24-hr average), as well as hourly nitrogen dioxide and ozone concentrations. Daily COH measurements were used to predict values for missing days of PM10 to develop a complete PM10 time series. Daily data were also obtained for temperature, precipitation, and relative humidity. In time-series analyses using Poisson regression, consistent relationships were found between ER visits for asthma and PM10. Same-day nitrogen dioxide concentrations were also associated with asthma ER visits, while ozone was not. Because there was a significant interaction between PM10 and minimum temperature in this data set, estimates of relative risks (RRs) for PM10-associated asthma ER visits were temperature-dependent. A 60 micrograms/m3 change in PM10 (2-day lag) corresponded to RRs of 1.43 (95% CI = 1.18-1.69) at 20 degrees F, representing the low end of the temperature distribution, 1.27 (95% CI = 1.13-1.42) at 30 degrees F, and 1.11 (95% CI = 1.03-1.19) at 41 degrees F, the mean of the observed minimum temperature. ER visits for gastroenteritis were not significantly associated with any pollutant variable. Several sensitivity analyses, including the use of robust regressions and of nonparametric methods for fitting time trends and temperature effects in the data, supported these findings. These results demonstrate an association between ambient wintertime PM10 and exacerbations of asthma in an area where one of the principal sources of PM10 is RWC.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollution / statistics & numerical data
  • Asthma / etiology*
  • California
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Humans
  • Nitrogen Dioxide / adverse effects
  • Ozone / adverse effects


  • Ozone
  • Nitrogen Dioxide