People who are exposed to high air pollution, specifically to airborne particulate matter are more likely to die early, reveals a new study. The findings of the study are published in the journal Environment International.
The Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a research center supported by "la Caixa," participated in a study that used wild moss samples to estimate human exposure to airborne metal particles to analyze the relationship between atmospheric metal pollution and risk of mortality.
It included data from 11,382 participants belonging to the Gazel cohort who were living in rural areas throughout France, a cohort that had been followed up for 20 years. The data on mosses came from the BRAMM biovigilance program, which collects and analyses moss samples from areas all over France situated at a distance from the country's largest industrial and population centers. These samples are analyzed in the laboratory to measure the presence of 13 elements: aluminum, arsenic, calcium, cadmium, chromium, copper, iron, mercury, sodium, nickel, lead, vanadium, and zinc.
The scientists constructed a mathematical model based on the geolocation data for each moss sample and the results of the BRAMM laboratory analysis. This model was then used to map the exposure of each participant to the metals under study. The metals were classified into two groups, according to whether their origin was considered natural or anthropogenic. The final analysis showed that participants exposed to higher atmospheric concentrations of metals of anthropogenic origin had an increased risk of death.
The metals deemed to be of anthropogenic origin were cadmium, copper, mercury, lead, and zinc. While all of these metals are naturally present in the earth's crust, their presence in the atmosphere is due to human activities, such as industry, traffic, and heating.
"Our results indicate that the metals present in the airborne particulate matter could be a key component in the effects of air pollution on mortality," explains Jacquemin. "It is important to bear in mind that the people we included in this study live in rural areas far from major urban and industrial centers and road networks. This means that they are very likely to be exposed to lower levels of air pollution than people living in urban environments, which gives us an idea of the seriousness of the health effects of air pollution, even at relatively low levels of exposure," she stresses.
"These findings support our hypothesis that moss bio-monitoring can be a good complementary technique for identifying the toxic components in suspended particulate matter," the researcher adds.