Association between Traffic-Related Black Carbon Exposure and Lung Function among Urban Women

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND: Although a number of studies have documented the relationship between lung function and traffic-related pollution among children, few have focused on adult lung function or examined community-based populations.

OBJECTIVE: We examined the relationship between black carbon (BC), a surrogate of traffic-related particles, and lung function among women in the Maternal-Infant Smoking Study of East Boston, an urban cohort in Boston, Massachusetts.

METHODS: We estimated local BC levels using a validated spatiotemporal land-use regression model, derived using ambient and indoor monitor data. We examined associations between percent predicted pulmonary function and predicted BC using linear regression, adjusting for sociodemo-graphics (individual and neighborhood levels), smoking status, occupational exposure, type of cooking fuel, and a diagnosis of asthma or chronic bronchitis.

RESULTS: The sample of 272 women 18-42 years of age included 57% who self-identified as Hispanic versus 43% white, and 18% who were current smokers. Mean [+ or -] SD predicted annual BC exposure level was 0.62[+ or -] 0.2 [micro]g/[m.sup.3]. In adjusted analysis, BC (per interquartile range increase) was associated with a 1.1% decrease [95% confidence interval (CI),-2.5% to 0.3%] in forced expiratory volume in 1 sec, a 0.6% decrease (95% CI, -1.9% to 0.6%) in forced vital capacity, and a 3.0% decrease (95% CI, -5.8% to -0.2%) in forced mid-expiratory flow rate. We noted differential effects by smoking status in that former smokers were most affected by BC exposure, whereas current smokers were not affected.

CONCLUSION: In this cohort, exposure to traffic-related BC, a component of particulate matter, independently predicted decreased lung function in urban women, when adjusting for tobacco smoke, asthma diagnosis, and socioeconomic status.

KEY WORDS: air pollution, lung function, particles, traffic. Environ Health Perspect 116:1333-1337 (2008). doi:10.1289/ehp.11223 available via [Online 4 June 2008]


It is well documented that air pollution is associated with a number of respiratory and cardiovascular adverse health effects (Beelen et al. 2008; Downs et al. 2007; Katsouyanni et al. 1997; Schwartz 1996; Schwartz et al. 2005). Many of these effects seem more strongly associated with particles from traffic (McCreanor et al. 2007; Schwartz et al. 2005), which are rich in elemental carbon and are the principle source of ultrafine particle exposure. Concentrations of traffic-related pollutants [i.e., particulate matter (PM), black carbon (BC), nitrogen dioxide] have been found to increase respiratory symptoms among children (Kim et al. 2004). Among children, long-term exposure to air pollution (Schwartz 1989, 2004) and indicators of increased traffic exposure (Brunekreef et al. 1997; Gauderman et al. 2007; Wjst et al. 1993) have been associated with reduced levels of lung function, a more objective measure of respiratory health.

A few studies have examined the relationship between lung function and long-term exposure to traffic pollution among adults. Among those that have, reduced lung function has been demonstrated among adults with increased traffic exposure (Evans et al. 1988; Kan et al. 2007; Karita et al. 2001; Schikowski et al. 2005; Sekine et al. 2004), although some studies have found no association (Nakai et al. 1999; Tollerud et al. 1983). Furthermore, these studies have focused largely on occupational populations (Evans et al. 1988; Karita et al. 2001; Raaschou-Nielsen et al. 1995; Tollerud et al. 1983), whereas data on community-based populations remain sparse (Kan et al. 2007; Schikowski et al. 2005; Sekine et al. 2004).

In a community-based study of women 30-59 years of age in Tokyo, Japan, Sekine et al. (2004) reported decreased lung function among women living in districts with high traffic density (> 20,000 vehicles) compared with women living in districts with lower average traffic density. …