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Am J Epidemiol. 2012 Aug 15;176(4):317-26. doi: 10.1093/aje/kws018. Epub 2012 Jul 31.

Modeling the association between particle constituents of air pollution and health outcomes.

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Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215, USA.


There is increasing interest in evaluating the association between specific fine-particle (particles with aerodynamic diameters less than 2.5 µm; PM2.5) constituents and adverse health outcomes rather than focusing solely on the impact of total PM2.5. Because PM2.5 may be related to both constituent concentration and health outcomes, constituents that are more strongly correlated with PM2.5 may appear more closely related to adverse health outcomes than other constituents even if they are not inherently more toxic. Therefore, it is important to properly account for potential confounding by PM2.5 in these analyses. Usually, confounding is due to a factor that is distinct from the exposure and outcome. However, because constituents are a component of PM2.5, standard covariate adjustment is not appropriate. Similar considerations apply to source-apportioned concentrations and studies assessing either short-term or long-term impacts of constituents. Using data on 18 constituents and data from 1,060 patients admitted to a Boston medical center with ischemic stroke in 2003-2008, the authors illustrate several options for modeling the association between constituents and health outcomes that account for the impact of PM2.5. Although the different methods yield results with different interpretations, the relative rankings of the association between constituents and ischemic stroke were fairly consistent across models.

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