In the News: Air Pollution Linked to Increased Risk of Autoimmune DiseasesAir contaminated by traffic fumes, dust, soot, and smoke may make you more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune conditions, a new study suggests.
By Lisa Rapaport
March 17, 2022
Car exhaust and other airborne contaminants have long been connected to heart and lung ailments, as well as rheumatoid arthritis, an immune system disorder that causes chronic swelling and joint pain. Our own studies have shown the relationship with indicators of cognitive deficiencies in children.
In a study I reviewed, researchers from the University of Verona, Italy, reviewed medical records of over 81,000 elderly Italians treated by over 3,500 clinicians. They looked at the association between particulate of less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter that can come from burning gasoline, oil, and wood. Particulate matter (PM) is also a term used to describe dust from construction, agriculture, landfills and wildfires.
They found that 12% of the patients had an autoimmune illness during the research and that pollution exposure enhanced the likelihood of this diagnosis. Each extra 10 mcg/m3 of average PM10 was related with a 7% increased risk of autoimmune illness.
The study revealed that in the study area the average yearly PM2.5 and PM10 exposure levels were 16 and 25 mcg/m3, respectively. The WHO recommends 25 mcg/m3 for PM2.5 and 20 mcg/m3 for PM10.
The study found that those with autoimmune illnesses had a 12-13% increased chance of being diagnosed with these diseases if they were exposed to levels higher than the WHO's guidelines.
The study shows that air pollution can contribute to autoimmune illnesses, says Luz Claudio, PhD, preventive medicine and public health professor at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine. In addition to the lungs, Dr. Claudio adds air pollution affects numerous other organs as well.
People can't escape filthy air, but they can lobby for stronger environmental standards, Claudio adds. They can also urge for greater monitoring of local air quality.
“Having a strong surveillance system in high pollution locations is quite important, especially for vulnerable individuals,” Claudio explains. “On polluted days, individuals should avoid outdoor activities.”
Idris MY, Korin M, Araya F, et al. Including the Public in Public eHealth: The Need for Community Participation in the Development of State-Sponsored COVID-19-Related Mobile Apps. JMIR Mhealth and Uhealth. 2022 Mar;10(3):e30872. DOI: 10.2196/30872. PMID: 35113793.
The COVID-19 epidemic has swamped healthcare systems globally, especially in communities of color with high prevalence of pre-existing conditions. Many state governments and healthcare organizations responded by expanding telemedicine capabilities and developing illness tracking smartphone apps. Based on our observations, many state-sponsored eHealth technologies did not involve community participation, thereby contributing to the growing digital health inequities. We propose that as the use of eHealth tools grows, more emphasis be paid to their equitable distribution, accessibility, and use. We offer our experience engaging in a Community Advisory Board working on the dissemination of the COVID Alert NY mobile app to show the relevance of public participation in app development. We also offer suggestions for involving community members in the app development process. We argue that involving communities in the app creation process enhances buy-in, trust, and utilization of digital technology in communities where it is most needed.
We published new research: Inequalities in Exposure to Ambient Air Neurotoxicants and Markers of Neurodevelopment in Children by Maternal Nativity Status
Araya F, Stingone JA, Claudio L. Inequalities in exposure to ambient air neurotoxicants and disparities in markers of neurodevelopment in children by maternal nativity status. Int J. Environ Res Public Health 2021, 18 (14) 7512 https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18147512
SUMMARY: Exposure to hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) varies greatly amongst populations. Inequities in HAP exposure among groups can lead to disparities in neurodevelopmental outcomes in children. Our study's goal was to see if HAP exposure was influenced by maternal nativity, a demographic characteristic generally disregarded in health disparities research. We also looked at whether unequal HAP exposure levels may affect young children's neurodevelopment.
To do this, we used data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), a nationally representative sample of children born in 2001 (n = 4750). Early cognitive development was assessed using Bayley's Short Form–Research Edition (BSF–R), a standardized test often used to assess brain development.
We found that participants at age nine months were exposed to ten possibly neurotoxic HAPs in their homes. Using linear regression models, we found that maternal nativity and HAP exposure had a synergistic effect on neurodevelopment. For instance, 32 percent of children born to foreign-born mothers were exposed to high levels of HAPs, compared to 21 percent of children born to U.S.-born moms.
One example of a particular HAP was the air pollutant isophorone, a measure of industrial pollution. After adjusting for socioeconomic characteristics, both isophorone exposure and maternal nativity status were linked with worse BSF-R mental scores in children. There was no statistically significant interaction between nativity status and isophorone exposure, but the change in mental scores was higher in children of foreign-born mothers than in children of U.S.-born mothers (0.12, vs. 0.03, p = 0.2).
In conclusion, children of foreign-born mothers were more likely than US-born mothers to be exposed to HAPs in the highest levels, showing disparities in pollutant exposure by nativity status within metropolitan populations. Exposures linked to nativity status may harm children's neurodevelopment.
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Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.