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Environ Health. 2013 Aug 27;12(1):68. doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-12-68.

The effect of primary organic particles on emergency hospital admissions among the elderly in 3 US cities.

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Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.



Fine particle (PM2.5) pollution related to combustion sources has been linked to a variety of adverse health outcomes. Although poorly understood, it is possible that organic carbon (OC) species, particularly those from combustion-related sources, may be partially responsible for the observed toxicity of PM2.5. The toxicity of the OC species may be related to their chemical structures; however, few studies have examined the association of OC species with health impacts.


We categorized 58 primary organic compounds by their chemical properties into 5 groups: n-alkanes, hopanes, cyclohexanes, PAHs and isoalkanes. We examined their impacts on the rate of daily emergency hospital admissions among Medicare recipients in Atlanta, GA and Birmingham, AL (2006-2009), and Dallas, TX (2006-2007). We analyzed data in two stages; we applied a case-crossover analysis to simultaneously estimate effects of individual OC species on cause-specific hospital admissions. In the second stage we estimated the OC chemical group-specific effects, using a multivariate weighted regression.


Exposures to cyclohexanes of six days and longer were significantly and consistently associated with increased rate of hospital admissions for CVD (3.40%, 95%CI = (0.64, 6.24%) for 7-d exposure). Similar increases were found for hospitalizations for ischemic heart disease and myocardial infarction. For respiratory related hospital admissions, associations with OC groups were less consistent, although exposure to iso-/anteiso-alkanes was associated with increased respiratory-related hospitalizations.


Results suggest that week-long exposures to traffic-related, primary organic species are associated with increased rate of total and cause-specific CVD emergency hospital admissions. Associations were significant for cyclohexanes, but not hopanes, suggesting that chemical properties likely play an important role in primary OC toxicity.

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