Accuracy of Quantification of Risk

Using a Single-Pollutant Air Quality Index

+ Kevin Cromar


Accuracy of quantification of risk using a single-pollutant Air Quality Index

Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology, 2017 Jan; 27(1):24-32.

 doi: 10.1038/jes.2015.43

Health risks associated with short-term exposure to ambient air pollution are communicated to the public by the US EPA through the Air Quality Index (AQI), but it remains unclear whether the current regulatory-based, single-pollutant AQI fully represents the actual risks of air pollution-related illness. The objective of this study is to quantify cardiovascular hospital admissions attributable to PM2.5 at each AQI category. Based on National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), the highest AQI value among criteria pollutants (driver pollutant) is reported daily. We investigated excess cardiovascular hospital admissions attributable to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) exposure from 2000 to 2010 in Bronx, Erie, Queens, and Suffolk counties of New York. Daily total, unscheduled cardiovascular hospital admissions (principal diagnosis) for individuals aged 20-99 years, concentration-response functions for PM2.5, and estimated quarterly effective daily concentrations were used to calculate excess cardiovascular hospital admissions when PM2.5 was reported as the driver pollutant and when PM2.5 was not reported as the driver pollutant at each AQI category. A higher proportion of excess hospital admissions attributable to PM2.5 occurred when PM2.5 was the driver pollutant (i.e., ~70% in Bronx County). The majority of excess hospital admissions (i.e., >90% in Bronx County) occurred when the AQI was <100 ("good" or "moderate" level of health concern) regardless of whether PM2.5 was the driver pollutant. During the warm season (April-September), greater excess admissions in Suffolk County occurred when PM2.5 was not the AQI driver pollutant. These results indicate that a single-pollutant index may inadequately communicate the adverse health risks associated with air pollution.


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Kevin Cromar, Ph.D., is a program director at the Marron Institute of Urban Management and a Clinical Associate Professor of Environmental Medicine and Population Health at New York University Grossman School of Medicine.

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