Effects of long-range transported air pollution from vegetation fires on daily mortality and hospital admissions in the Helsinki metropolitan area, Finland

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Abstract

Introduction

Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions from vegetation fires can be transported over long distances and may cause significant air pollution episodes far from the fires. However, epidemiological evidence on health effects of vegetation-fire originated air pollution is limited, particularly for mortality and cardiovascular outcomes.

Objective

We examined association between short-term exposure to long-range transported PM2.5 from vegetation fires and daily mortality due to non-accidental, cardiovascular, and respiratory causes and daily hospital admissions due to cardiovascular and respiratory causes in the Helsinki metropolitan area, Finland.

Methods

Days significantly affected by smoke from vegetation fires between 2001 and 2010 were identified using air quality measurements at an urban background and a regional background monitoring station, and modelled data on surface concentrations of vegetation-fire smoke. Associations between daily PM2.5 concentration and health outcomes on i) smoke-affected days and ii) all other days (i.e. non-smoke days) were analysed using Poisson time series regression. All statistical models were adjusted for daily temperature and relative humidity, influenza, pollen, and public holidays.

Results

On smoke-affected days, 10 μg/m3 increase in PM2.5 was associated with a borderline statistically significant increase in cardiovascular mortality among total population at a lag of three days (12.4%, 95% CI −0.2% to 26.5%), and among the elderly (≥65 years) following same-day exposure (13.8%, 95% CI −0.6% to 30.4%) and at a lag of three days (11.8%, 95% CI −2.2% to 27.7%). Smoke day PM2.5 was not associated with non-accidental mortality or hospital admissions due to cardiovascular causes. However, there was an indication of a positive association with hospital admissions due to respiratory causes among the elderly, and admissions due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma among the total population. In contrast, on non-smoke days PM2.5 was generally not associated with the health outcomes, apart from suggestive small positive effects on non-accidental mortality at a lag of one day among the elderly and hospital admissions due to all respiratory causes following same-day exposure among the total population.

Conclusions

Our research provides suggestive evidence for an association of exposure to long-range transported PM2.5 from vegetation fires with increased cardiovascular mortality, and to a lesser extent with increased hospital admissions due to respiratory causes. Hence, vegetation-fire originated air pollution may have adverse effects on public health over a distance of hundreds to thousands of kilometres from the fires.

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