PM source apportionment and health effects: 2. An investigation of intermethod variability in associations between source-apportioned fine particle mass and daily mortality in Washington, DC

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Source apportionment may be useful in epidemiological investigation of PM health effects, but variations and options in these methods leave uncertainties. An EPA-sponsored workshop investigated source apportionment and health effects analyses by examining the associations between daily mortality and the investigators' estimated source-apportioned PM2.5 for Washington, DC for 1988-1997. A Poisson Generalized Linear Model (GLM) was used to estimate source-specific relative risks at lags 0-4 days for total non-accidental, cardiovascular, and cardiorespiratory mortality adjusting for weather, seasonal/temporal trends, and day-of-week. Source-related effect estimates and their lagged association patterns were similar across investigators/methods. The varying lag structure of associations across source types, combined with the Wednesday/Saturday sampling frequency made it difficult to compare the source-specific effect sizes in a simple manner. The largest (and most significant) percent excess deaths per 5-95th percentile increment of apportioned PM2.5 for total mortality was for secondary sulfate (variance-weighted mean percent excess mortality = 6.7% (95% CI: 1.7, 11.7)), but with a peculiar lag structure (lag 3 day). Primary coal-related PM2.5 (only three teams) was similarly significantly associated with total mortality with the same 3-day lag as sulfate. Risk estimates for traffic-related PM2.5, while significant in some cases, were more variable. Soil-related PM showed smaller effect size estimates, but they were more consistently positive at multiple lags. The cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory mortality associations were generally similar to those for total mortality. Alternative weather models generally gave similar patterns, but sometimes affected the lag structure (e.g., for sulfate). Overall, the variations in relative risks across investigators/methods were found to be much smaller than those across estimated source types or across lag days for these data. This consistency suggests the robustness of the source apportionment in health effects analyses, but remaining issues, including accuracy of source apportionment and source-specific sensitivity to weather models, need to be investigated.

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