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Thorax. 1999 Nov;54(11):1027-32.

Particulate air pollution and the blood.

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  • 1Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine, University of Aberdeen Medical School, Foresterhill, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD, UK.



Particulate air pollution has been associated with excess deaths from, and increases in hospital admissions for, cardiovascular disease among older people. A study was undertaken to determine whether this may be a consequence of alterations in the blood, secondary to pulmonary inflammation caused by the action of fine particles on alveolar cells, by repeatedly measuring haematological factors in older people and relating them to measurements of exposure to airborne particles.


One hundred and twelve individuals aged 60+ years in two UK cities provided repeated blood samples over 18 months, 108 providing the maximum of 12 samples. Estimates of individual exposure to particles of less than 10 microm diameter (PM(10)), derived from a mathematical model based on activity diaries and comparative measurements of PM(10) at multiple sites and during a variety of activities, were made for each three day period prior to blood sampling. The relationships between blood values and estimates of both personal exposure and city centre measurements of PM(10) were investigated by analysis of covariance, adjusting for city, season, temperature, and repeated individual measurements.


Estimated personal exposure to PM(10) over the previous three days showed negative correlations with haemoglobin concentration, packed cell volume (PCV), and red blood cell count (p<0.001), and with platelets and factor VII levels (p<0.05). The changes in red cell indices persisted after adjustment for plasma albumin in a sample of 60 of the subjects. City centre PM(10) measurements over three days also showed negative correlations with haemoglobin and red cell count (p<0.001) and with PCV and fibrinogen (p<0.05), the relationship with haemoglobin persisting after adjustment for albumin. C reactive protein levels showed a positive association with city centre measurements of PM(10) (p<0.01). Based on a linear relationship, the estimated change in haemoglobin associated with an alteration in particle concentration of 100 microg/m(3) is estimated to have been 0.44 g/dl (95% CI 0.62 to 0.26) for personal PM(10) and 0.73 g/dl (95% CI 1.11 to 0.36) for city centre PM(10) measurements.


This investigation is the first to estimate personal exposures to PM(10) and to demonstrate associations between haematological indices and air pollution. The changes in haemoglobin adjusted for albumin suggest that inhalation of some component of PM(10) may cause sequestration of red cells in the circulation. We propose that an action of such particles either on lung endothelial cells or on erythrocytes themselves may be responsible for changing red cell adhesiveness. Peripheral sequestration of red cells offers an explanation for the observed cardiovascular effects of particulate air pollution.

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