Older adults may be at increased risk of being hospitalized for lung and heart disease, stroke, and diabetes following long-term exposure to fine-particle air pollution, according to a new study by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). It is the first study to look at the link between long-term effects of exposure to fine particles in the air and rates of hospital admissions.

The study was published online April 17, 2012 in PLoS ONE.

Prior studies have reported an association between hospitalization and short-term air particle exposure (i.e. exposure to air particles on day of hospital admission or several days before). However, these short-term studies left unclear how many extra admissions occurred in the long run, and only included people who live near air pollution monitors, typically located in cities. No studies of long-term exposure to fine air particles (over the course of a year or two years) and rates of hospitalizations had been done.

“Our study found that long-term rates of admissions for pneumonia, heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes are higher in locations with higher long-term average particle concentrations,” said lead author Itai Kloog, a research fellow in the Department of Environmental Health at HSPH.

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