Health Effects of Outdoor Air Particles

Particle Air Cleaning and Health Effects of Outdoor Air Particles

Extensive research indicates that adverse health effects, and markers of adverse health effects such as asthma exacerbations, hospital admissions, and death rates, increase with increased concentrations of particles in outdoor air [1-3]. Much of people’s exposures to particles from outdoor air occurs when people are indoors and these exposures can be reduced by particle air cleaning. Consequently, it is reasonable to expect health benefits from particle air cleaning systems that substantially reduce indoor concentrations of particles with an outdoor-air origin. These particle air cleaning systems can be either standalone air cleaners or particle filtration systems installed in heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems. Filtering the incoming outdoor air as it enters the building is a particularly effective strategy for reducing indoor air concentrations of particles from outdoors.

Published relationships of outdoor air particle concentrations with adverse health effects have been used in models to predict the related health benefits of particle air cleaning. The resulting papers, reviewed by [4], indicate substantial health benefits with particle air cleaning, with benefits generally proportional to the reduction in total exposure to particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter. The reductions in adverse health effects of outdoor air particles reported by these studies, or inferable from study results, range from 7% to 21%. One paper [5] compared particle filtration costs in an office building with the economic benefits of avoided health effects. The predicted annual filtration operating cost was $2.6 per person, which included filter material, maintenance, and energy costs. Predicted annual mortality-related economic benefits were $37 to $144 per person and predicted annual morbidity-related economic benefits were $8 to $30 per person, thus, predicted health-related economic benefits far exceeded costs.

A second paper [6] projected that particle air filtration upgrades in Europe would annually prevent 27,000 to 100,000 premature deaths. Another paper evaluated use of higher efficiency electronic particle air cleaners in forced-air heating and cooling systems of homes, together  with continuous operation of the fans of the forced-air systems when windows were closed [7].  For a population of 2.7 million, the authors projected health benefits including 700 avoided premature deaths and 130,000 avoided asthma exacerbations per year. Because the health outcomes considered in the models affect a small proportion of the total population, large empirical studies would be needed to confirm these predictions, and such studies have not been performed. Two studies [8, 9], but not a third [10], found statistically significant improvements, with particle filtration, in biomarkers that predict future adverse coronary events [4], providing some empirical support for the model predictions of health benefits.

1.         Brunekreef, B. and B. Forsberg, Epidemiological evidence of effects of coarse airborne particles on health. Eur Respir J, 2005. 26(2): p. 309-18.

2.         Delfino, R.J., C. Sioutas, and S. Malik, Potential role of ultrafine particles in associations between airborne particle mass and cardiovascular health. Environ Health Perspect, 2005. 113(8): p. 934-46.

3.         Pope, C.A., 3rd and D.W. Dockery, Health effects of fine particulate air pollution: lines that connect. J Air Waste Manag Assoc, 2006. 56(6): p. 709-42.

4.         Fisk , W.J., Health benefits of particle filtration. Indoor Air, 2013. 23(5): p. 357-368.

5.         Beko, G., G. Clausen, and C.J. Weschler, Is the use of particle air filtration justified? Costs and benefits of filtration with regard to health effects, building cleaning and occupant productivity. Building and Environment, 2008. 43: p. 1647-1657.

6.         Hanninen, O.O., et al., Reduction potential of urban PM2.5 mortality risk using modern ventilation systems in buildings. Indoor Air, 2005. 15(4): p. 246-56.

7.         Macintosh, D.L., et al., The benefits of whole-house in-duct air cleaning in reducing exposures to fine particulate matter of outdoor origin: a modeling analysis. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol, 2009. 20(2): p. 213-24.

8.         Allen, R.W., et al., An air filter intervention study of endothelial function among healthy adults in a woodsmoke-impacted community. Am J Respir Crit Care Med, 2011. 183(9): p. 1222-30.

9.         Brauner, E., et al., Indoor particles affect vascular function in the aged: an air filtration-based intervention study. American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine, 2008. 177: p. 419–425.

10.       Weichenthal, S., et al., A randomized double-blind crossover study of indoor air filtration and acute changes in cardiorespiratory health in a First Nations community. Indoor Air, 2012: p. doi: 10.1111.