MED-PARTICLES intends to address the current epidemiological issues on air pollution, with specific attention to particulate matter exposure in Mediterranean Countries and their related health effects. A better knowledge of the effects of fine and coarse particles, of the specific PM components, of natural dust and forest fires is mandatory in order to update and support EC legislation in this field, to plan mitigation actions and to implement efficient practical measures.
Airborne particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) has been linked to severe short-term and long-term health effects. As result, the health impact of air pollution is a major concern to the European Community (European Environment and Health Action Plan) and the information base for policy on the environment and health should be developed. The needs of effective improvements are specifically mentioned in the thematic strategy on air pollution of the EU. The Parma Ministerial Conference in 2010 has reiterated the need to improve air pollution conditions to protect children health. The CE 2008/50 Directive has set new regulations and air quality standards for PM10 and PM2.5, but the legislative process has been controversial and a revision of the standards for PM2.5 is foreseen for 2013. The efficient development and implementation of policies, especially in the Mediterranean area, is hampered by several aspects:
Air quality data obtained from the existing monitoring networks address those pollutants regulated by EC directives. There is a need for extended air pollution data, including new/emerging toxic pollutants that are representative of human exposure. In particular, it is important to identify size (PM10, PM2.5, PM2.5-10) and toxic constituents/parameters of particulate pollutants (including natural PM) that are responsible for health effects.
The contribution to air pollution from dust of prevalent natural origin (Saharan dust) or from extensive forest fires during the summer periods in the Mediterranean area is relevant.
Short-term health effects on mortality and morbidity of these specific aspects of the air pollution mix have not been assessed until today across Europe and in the Mediterranean area. Furthermore, data on morbidity in Europe are not easily accessible and the methodologies for their assessment need to be further harmonized. The studies of air pollution effects on human health should reflect the geographical variation of the mix of sources, the air pollution composition and climate, as well as the socio-economic and lifestyle diversity of populations in the European Union.
Knowledge of the European heterogeneity and/or similarities of e.g. aerosol composition and sources, concentration-response function, the prevalence of air pollutants exposures in various population groups in combination with life-style and health data is scarce, but essential for a correct assessment of the health impact of air pollution.
Existing health impact assessments in the Mediterranean area have large uncertainties, with a weak effect on the efficiency and the cost of abatement measures.
This project aims at a better understanding of the particulate air pollution characteristics in cities of the Mediterranean area (Spain, France, Italy, Greece, for a total of at least 14 cities and several millions of inhabitants) and the interconnections between air pollution characteristics and health. In particular, MED-PARTICLES aims to demonstrate the feasibility:
Objective 1. To evaluate the geographical differences in particles size (PM10, fine particles PM2.5, and coarse particles, PM2.5-10) and composition (Elemental Carbon, EC, Organic Carbon, OC, nitrates, sulphates, and metals) in different areas of Mediterranean countries;
Objective 2. To evaluate the frequency of Saharan dust days and forest fires days in different areas of Mediterranean countries;
Objective 3. To compare particles sizes and composition in different areas of Mediterranean countries according to Saharan dust/no dust days and to forest fires/no fires days;
Objective 4. To evaluate the short term effects of PM10, fine and coarse particles on daily mortality and emergency hospitalizations for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases;
Objective 5. To evaluate potential effect modification of Saharan dust and forest fires on the association between particles and daily mortality and emergency hospitalizations for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases;
Objective 6. To explore the role of specific PM components on short-term health effects;
Objective 7. To educate young scientists in epidemiological and statistical analyses and to disseminate the scientific information available to different stakeholders (policy makers, environmental and health authorities, academia and industry).
In order to reach the common goals, the work took an interdisciplinary and innovative approach integrating data collection under strict developed protocols, modeling development and application and data analysis techniques. It represented an innovative design and implementation of approaches to monitor and assess the state of environment focusing on size and composition of particles, their sources, and health. The project used different background expertise including atmospheric physics and chemistry, epidemiology and biostatistics. Coordination and management has been under the responsibility of the coordinator although a Steering Committee (including all partners) discussed and approved all the important aspects (Actions 1 and 2).
A total of at least 14 cities were part of the study. These cities have represented different climate and population characteristics within Europe and the contribution to air pollution comes from anthropogenic and natural sources in different ways. In order to achieve objective 1, a protocol for data collection of routinely measured air pollutants - daily concentrations of particles (PM10, PM2.5-10, PM2.5), gases (CO, NO2, O3, SO2) - and meteorological parameters (air temperature, humidity, sea-level barometric pressure, wind speed/direction) has been prepared and applied for each city (Action 3). For a subset of cities, data on PM composition (Elemental Carbon, EC, Organic Carbon, OC, nitrates, sulphates, and metals) have been analyzed from samples already collected from the special monitoring programs already established (Action 4). Information on Saharan dust days and forest fires have been collected from European programs currently running (objective 2, Action 5). Major episodes of forest fires contributing to local air pollution have been collected for each country and each city from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS), in charge of the protection of forests against fires in the EU countries with updated and reliable information on wild land fires in Europe (Action 5). Health data regarding mortality for natural causes and emergency hospitalizations for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases have been collected from the local registries of each city under a strict protocol and without personal identification (Action 6). All the environmental and health data collected were centralized for the creation of a pooled data base (Action 7). In order to compare particles sizes and composition in different areas of Mediterranean countries, and according to Saharan dust/no dust days and to forest fires/no fires days (Objective 3), the pooled data base was used for descriptive purposes to prepare a specific report (Action 8). The protocol for the statistical data analysis regarding the association between particles sizes and composition and daily mortality and morbidity has been prepared (Action 9) following the traditional time series analysis with modern application of the case-cross over methods. A summer course was conducted with specific educational aims regarding statistical analysis and interpretation of the preliminary results. To evaluate the short term effects on daily mortality and emergency hospitalizations for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases of PM10, fine and coarse particles (Objective 4), the data analysis has been performed first for each city separately and then a meta-analysis has been conducted (Actions 10 and 11). The analysis for mortality considered all natural mortality as well as cardiac, cerebrovascular, and respiratory mortality. For emergency hospital admissions we considered all cardiovascular and respiratory diseases as well as specific disease entities like myocardial infarction, heart failure, respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD). To achieve Objective 5, effect modifications of Saharan dust episodes and forest fires episodes on the main relationships between PM sizes and health outcomes were examined for each city and then the data were meta-analyzed (Action 12). Similarly, an exploratory analysis of the role of PM components on mortality and morbidity (objective 6) were performed for the cities with daily components measurements, by correlating the daily concentrations of different components of PM with the health endpoints (Action 13). In the overall evaluation and in the dissemination of the results (Objective 7), a number of possible air pollution scenarios were evaluated to investigate the possible health impact attributable to planned as well as alternative future EU policies in order to provide recommendations for adaption and mitigation strategies.
Expected results (outputs and quantified achievements):
The outputs of the project are summarized below. The main results are provided to the Commission as a demonstration of the feasibility to integrate environmental and health data to address the problem of airborne particles and health.
1. A protocol, a data base and a report describing daily concentrations of particles of different sizes for 14 cities in Europe, and intra and inter countries variations (Objective 1).
2. A protocol, a data base and a report describing daily concentrations of PM components for different areas of Mediterranean countries (Objective 1).
3. A protocol, a data base and a report describing the frequency of Saharan dust days and forest fires days in the 14 cities of the project (Objective 2).
4. A report on particles sizes and composition in different areas of Mediterranean countries according to Saharan dust/no dust days and to forest fires/no fires days (Objective 3).
5. A Protocol for statistical data analysis to examine mortality and morbidity (Objective 4).
6. A report providing estimates of the short term effects of PM10, fine and coarse particles on daily mortality and morbidity for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases (Objective 4).
7. A report that evaluates potential effect modification of Saharan dust and forest fires on the association between particles and mortality and emergency hospitalizations (Objective 5).
8. A report that considers the role of specific PM components on short-term health effects (Objective 6) ;
9. Products useful for dissemination: minutes of the meetings and conference, Layman’s report, web site containing all data and results (Objective 7)
Programme Life+Environment Policy and Governance