The evidence base linking air pollution exposure and adverse health effects is strong

18 March, 2019

The combined epidemiological and toxicological evidence base that links exposure to air pollution with adverse health outcomes is robust and defensible says Professor Frank Kelly, in a new editorial published in the European Respiratory Journal.

In response to an article published in Frankfurter Allgemeine (January 2019) that questions the basis of the World Health Organization (WHO) health-based air quality guidelines, Professor Kelly argues that questioning the legitimacy of the air quality guidelines contradicts decades’ worth of investigation and study, conducted by tens of thousands of scientists from all over the world.

The editorial draws upon evidence from several high-quality studies to highlight the negative effects of exposure to air pollutants (including particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ground level ozone) on human health and natural ecosystems, and the related economic consequences.

Professor Kelly states that epidemiological studies, which estimate mortality in terms of “premature deaths” and as “years of life lost”, produce some of the most robust findings associated with air pollution as they are able to provide a measure of the general impact of exposure across populations.

The editorial continues that it is now well documented that air pollution contributes to the development of pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases, and that exposure has been linked with impaired fetal development and restricting the lung growth of schoolchildren.

In addition, Professor Kelly argues that toxicological studies further demonstrate how exposure to air pollution impacts heavily on the cardiovascular system, and he addresses the inaccuracies of comparing short-term peaks of exposure experienced during smoking with the long-term outcomes of regular exposure to ambient pollution, stating that they have no scientific basis.

For more information please read the ERS and the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) expert report, The health impact of air pollution, available in German and English.


Frank Kelly is Professor of Environmental Health at Kings College London, UK, where he is Director of the Analytical & Environmental Sciences Division. His other positions of responsibility are Director of the Environmental Research Group, Director of the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Health Impact of Environmental Hazards and Deputy Director of the MRC-PHE Centre for Environment & Health (source).