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Environ Health Perspect. 1993 Jul;101 Suppl 2:229-68.

A critical review of studies of the association between demands for hospital services and air pollution.


Studies of the associations between air pollution and hospital admissions and emergency room use are reviewed, including studies of air pollution episodes, time-series analyses, and cross-sectional analyses. These studies encompass a variety of methods of analysis and levels of air quality. Findings from all three types of studies were generally consistent in that almost all of the studies reviewed found statistically significant associations between hospital use and air pollution; this unanimity may have resulted in part from publication bias. These associations were characterized by elasticities of the order of 0.20; i.e., a 100% change in air pollution was associated with a change in hospital use of about 20%, for specific diagnoses. Respiratory diagnoses were emphasized by most studies; cardiac diagnoses were included in five of them. The air pollutants most often associated with changes in hospital use were particulate matter, sulfur oxides, and oxidants. Apart from the major air pollution episodes, there was no obvious link between air pollution level and the significance or magnitudes of the associations. Long-term indicators of hospitalization appeared to also be influenced by medical care supply factors, including the numbers of beds and physicians per capita. These nonpathological causal factors could also have influenced the findings of the time-series studies by introducing extraneous factors in the patterns of admissions. Although consistent associations have been shown between hospital use and air pollution, further research is required to distinguish among potentially responsible pollutants and to deduce specific dose-response relationships of general utility.

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