Colorado State University Studies Relationship of Air Pollution Spikes to Emergency Room, Hospital Visits Along Front Range

A Colorado State University researcher is looking at the relationship between day-to-day pollution spikes and the number of emergency room visits for asthma, heart attacks and other respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, and pre-term and low weight births. The study will also look at data from patients with internal defibrillators.

The research, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, will compare ambient air pollution data to health data from the Denver and Greeley areas. Pollution levels will be measured for coarse particulate matter at four sites in Denver and three sites in Greeley every hour for three years. Coarse particulate matter will be evaluated for levels of sulfate, nitrate, ammonium, nitrogen, organic carbon, elemental carbon, carbohydrates, protein, endotoxin and metals.

"Scientists believe that coarse particulate matter is important to health because they are of a size that can penetrate the thoracic region of the lungs when inhaled. However, fewer studies have examined these larger coarse particles. Most studies have looked at the finer particles, which have been linked to wide range of health concerns, from asthma to heart attacks and event to premature death," said Jennifer Peel, an epidemiologist and an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health at Colorado State University. "Coarse particulate matter is caused by many activities and is common in our environment – construction, feedlots, agricultural activities, mining and even driving on a road and kicking up dust are sources of this pollution."

Recent research provides evidence that coarse particulate matter may be connected to conditions such as asthma attacks in children and to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart conditions in adults. There has been no previous research examining coarse particulate matter in relation to adverse birth outcomes, but there is evidence that these conditions may be related to other types of air pollution.

This study will link hourly measurements of coarse particulate matter with emergency room visits for cardiovascular and respiratory conditions as well as birth data. In addition, data from patients with internal defibrillators will allow the researchers to review the heart arrhythmias recorded by the devices, and examine these events in relation to air pollution levels. The researchers will be looking for patterns in pollution spikes correlating with health concerns. The air quality data also will be evaluated for patterns related to the kind of coarse matter as well as possible sources.

The Department of Environmental and Radiological Health is part of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The research is in partnership with scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Colorado School of Mines.