Estimating the Health Impact of Air Pollution Fields

Authored by: Duncan Lee , Sujit K. Sahu

Handbook of Spatial Epidemiology

Print publication date:  April  2016
Online publication date:  April  2016

Print ISBN: 9781482253016
eBook ISBN: 9781482253023
Adobe ISBN:


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The health impacts of many facets of the natural and built environment have been well studied in recent years, including air pollution (Krall et al., 2013), green space (Richardson and Mitchell, 2010), and water quality (Wymer and Dufour, 2002). This chapter focuses on quantifying the health impact of air pollution, although the environmental, epidemiological, and statistical challenges discussed are applicable in the wider environmental context. For a more in-depth discussion of environmental studies, see Chapter 2. Quantifying the impact of air pollution is an inherently spatial as well as temporal problem, because air pollution concentrations vary at fine spatiotemporal scales. Furthermore, individuals move through this spatiotemporal pollution field, which makes quantifying both their exposure to air pollution and its resulting health impact a difficult modelling challenge. Nevertheless, this has been an active research topic since the 1990s, with one of the first studies quantifying the effect of short-term increases in concentrations in London (Schwartz and Marcus, 1990). Since then, a truly voluminous literature has developed, which has collectively quantified the health effects resulting from exposure to air pollution in both the short and the long term. This literature has included both single-site studies and large multicity studies, the latter being advantageous because of the comparability of the results across multiple locations due to unified data and analysis protocols. Collectively, these studies have helped to drive and shape legislation limiting pollution concentrations around the world, with examples being the 1990 Clean Air Act in the United States; the 2007 Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland; and the 2008 European Parliament directive on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe.

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