News | December 11, 2007

Research Explores Connection Between Respiratory Illnesses, Air Quality, And Weather In NYC

New York, NY - Local air quality affects how you live and breathe. Like the weather, it can change from day to day or even hour to hour. The New York University School of Medicine and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene just received $494,551 in grant funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop models to predict respiratory illnesses, including asthma attacks using near-real time weather data, air quality conditions, and emergency room visits in New York City.

"This type of research is integral to enhancing our understanding of how various factors come together to impact people's health," said Alan J. Steinberg, EPA Regional Administrator. "EPA and our regulatory partners are working to rid our air of pollution, but informing the public is also a key element to fighting pollution. Knowing more about the relationship between air quality, weather conditions and when people fall ill can greatly advance our ability to advise people on how best to protect their health."

"Through this study, we hope to better track the impact of air pollution and weather on the health of New Yorkers," said Dr. Thomas Matte, an environmental epidemiologist at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "New York City is a leader in using data to drive public health actions, and we hope this project will lead to better public communication that reduces health risks when poor air quality or extreme weather events are forecast." Dr. Matte added that the study will also enhance the city's ability to track health benefits from air quality improvement initiatives being launched as part of PlaNYC, a comprehensive plan to enhance New York's physical environment.

"We at the NYU School of Medicine look forward to working with the city of New York in order to develop improved methods for identifying and warning the public about impending risks from future air pollution episodes in our city," said Dr. Kazuhiko Ito, Assistant Professor and NYU's principal investigator on the project. Dr. George Thurston, Professor, and NYU's co-principal investigator said "We hope that the results of this work may engender the development of expanded real-time health and environmental data collection and analysis systems in other cities throughout the US and the world, in order to better protect the public's health from air pollution risks."

Researchers will take advantage of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's syndromic surveillance system that tracks visits to the emergency room on a daily basis. Syndromic surveillance systems are monitoring systems used by health care providers to record symptoms and health related data before a diagnosis is made. These systems provide an early warning system for the medical community by identifying health patterns and signaling when there might be reason to suspect that a specific outbreak is occurring.

Scientific investigators will systematically study the sequence of events among weather conditions, air pollution buildup, and health effects indicators. The aim is to develop health effects models that are useful for predictions of air pollution health impact days based on real-time environmental and health data. The EPA funded study will also examine the influence of special events such as Asian dust storms, Canadian forest fires, etc. to evaluate how they impact health and the model predictions.

Ozone can irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing, throat irritation, and aggravating asthma. When ozone levels are high, more people with asthma have attacks that require a doctor's attention or use of medication. One reason this happens is that ozone makes people more sensitive to allergens such as pets, pollen, and dust mites, which are common triggers of asthma attacks and lead to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits.

Sources of fine particles, which are less than 2.5 micrometers or about 1/30th the diameter of a human hair, include all types of combustion, including motor vehicles, power plants, residential wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning, and some industrial processes. Fine particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and pose serious health risks, including aggravating the symptoms of asthma and other respiratory problems in healthy individuals.

SOURCE: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency