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Human exposure factors as potential determinants of the heterogeneity in city-specific associations between PM2.5 and mortality


Multi-city population-based epidemiological studies of short-term fine particulate matter (PM2.5) exposures and mortality have observed heterogeneity in risk estimates between cities. Factors affecting exposures, such as pollutant infiltration, which are not captured by central-site monitoring data, can differ between communities potentially explaining some of this heterogeneity. This analysis evaluates exposure factors as potential determinants of the heterogeneity in 312 core-based statistical areas (CBSA)-specific associations between PM2.5 and mortality using inverse variance weighted linear regression. Exposure factor variables were created based on data on housing characteristics, commuting patterns, heating fuel usage, and climatic factors from national surveys. When survey data were not available, air conditioning (AC) prevalence was predicted utilizing machine learning techniques. Across all CBSAs, there was a 0.95% (Interquartile range (IQR) of 2.25) increase in non-accidental mortality per 10 µg/m3 increase in PM2.5 and significant heterogeneity between CBSAs. CBSAs with larger homes, more heating degree days, a higher percentage of home heating with oil had significantly (p < 0.05) higher health effect estimates, while cities with more gas heating had significantly lower health effect estimates. While univariate models did not explain much of heterogeneity in health effect estimates (R2 < 1%), multivariate models began to explain some of the observed heterogeneity (R2 = 13%).

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The authors would like thank Ana Rappold of the U.S. EPA’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory. The authors would like to thank Breanna Allman of the U.S. EPA’s Office on Air Quality Planning and Standards and Tom Long of the U.S. EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment for their review of this paper.

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Correspondence to Lisa K. Baxter.

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The authors declare there are no competing interests.

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Baxter, L.K., Dionisio, K., Pradeep, P. et al. Human exposure factors as potential determinants of the heterogeneity in city-specific associations between PM2.5 and mortality. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol 29, 557–567 (2019).

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  • Exposure Factors
  • Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs)
  • Health Effect Estimates
  • Heating Degree
  • Central Site Monitor

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