Making Air Pollution Visible: A Tool for Promoting Environmental Health Literacy
BACKGROUND Several studies have estimated the burden of coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality from ambient regional particulate matter ≤ 2.5 μm (PM2.5). The burden of near-roadway air pollution (NRAP) generally has not been examined, despite evidence of a causal link with CHD. OBJECTIVE We investigated the CHD burden from NRAP and compared it with the PM2.5 burden in the California South Coast Air Basin for 2008 and under a compact urban growth greenhouse gas reduction scenario for 2035. METHODS We estimated the population attributable fraction and number of CHD events attributable to residential traffic density, proximity to a major road, elemental carbon (EC), and PM2.5 compared with the expected disease burden if the population were exposed to background levels of air pollution. RESULTS In 2008, an estimated 1,300 CHD deaths (6.8% of the total) were attributable to traffic density, 430 deaths (2.4%) to residential proximity to a major road, and 690 (3.7%) to EC. There were 1,900 deaths (10.4%) attributable to PM2.5. Although reduced exposures in 2035 should result in smaller fractions of CHD attributable to traffic density, EC, and PM2.5, the numbers of estimated deaths attributable to each of these exposures are anticipated to increase to 2,500, 900, and 2,900, respectively, due to population aging. A similar pattern of increasing NRAP-attributable CHD hospitalizations was estimated to occur between 2008 and 2035. CONCLUSION These results suggest that a large burden of preventable CHD mortality is attributable to NRAP and is likely to increase even with decreasing exposure by 2035 due to vulnerability of an aging population. Greenhouse gas reduction strategies developed to mitigate climate change offer unexploited opportunities for air pollution health co-benefits.