Link Between Air Pollution, Hospitalization to Be Studied

The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health will conduct a study of possible links between air pollution and hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses.

The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) has received $132,000 to conduct a one-year study of possible links between air pollution and hospitalizations for respiratory and cardiopulmonary illnesses throughout the county.

"The link between air pollution and health problems has been the topic of debate for decades, particularly in counties such as Allegheny," said Dr. Joseph Schwerha, M.P.H., professor of environmental and occupational health and director of the division of occupational and environmental medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, and principal investigator of the study. "The air quality in Allegheny county has improved over the past two decades, and we are obliged to look at whether remaining air pollution from coal-fired power plants, motor vehicles and industry affects the health of residents."

Using data from the Allegheny County Health Department air quality monitoring stations, researchers will identify any daily, monthly and quarterly trends in air pollutant releases between 1995 and 1999, and compare those findings with trends noted in hospital admissions and emergency room visits across the county during that same time period, specifically for asthma, congestive heart failure and chronic obstructiv pulmonary disease.

They will focus on residents ages 12 years and younger, and 65 years and older -- the age groups most susceptible to environmentally related health problems.

Any correlation between trends with regard to air pollution releases and hospitalizations and emergency room visits for respiratory and cardiopulmonary events will be recorded and compared with controls.

In looking for trends in air pollution, investigators will assess those pollutants that previous studies have linked with hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses, namely sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, particulate mass, sulfates, nitrous oxide and ozone.

In looking for trends in hospitalizations, researchers will review admissions and emergency room data from hospitals in Allegheny County.

"It is possible that we will find no correlation between pollution and hospital admissions and emergency room visits in Allegheny County, and we hope that that is the case," said Dr. Evelyn Talbott, Ph.d., associate professor of epidemiology and co-principal investigator of the study. "However, investigations such as this have been conducted in a variety of American and Canadian cities, and in nearly every case they demonstrate a link."

In addition to this retrospective study of possible correlations, researchers will lay the groundwork for a similar prospective study.

by Virginia Foran

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