Exposure to ambient air pollution is linked to decreased lung function and an increased risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), suggests a new large-scale study in the European Respiratory Journal.
The researchers used UK Biobank data on 303,887 individuals aged 40-69 years with complete covariate data and valid lung function measures. Cross-sectional analyses examined associations of validated air pollutant models (including particulate matter [PM10], fine particulate matter [PM2.5] and nitrogen dioxide [NO2]), with spirometry findings.
Higher exposures to each pollutant was significantly associated with lower lung function. The data showed that for each annual average increase of 5μg/m3 of PM2.5 participants were exposed to at home, the associated reduction in lung function was similar to the effects of two years of ageing.
The researchers also found that among participants living in areas with PM2.5 concentrations above World Health Organization (WHO) recommended annual average of 10μg/m3, COPD prevalence was four times higher than among people who were exposed to passive smoking at home, and prevalence was half that of people who have ever been a smoker.
Current EU air quality limit for PM2.5 is 25μg/m3, significantly higher than the levels that the researchers noted as being linked to reduced lung function.