Quantitative systematic review of the associations between short-term exposure to nitrogen dioxide and mortality and hospital admissions

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BACKGROUND: Short-term exposure to NO2 has been associated with adverse health effects and there is increasing concern that NO2 is causally related to health effects, not merely a marker of traffic-generated pollution. No comprehensive meta-analysis of the time-series evidence on NO2 has been published since 2007.

OBJECTIVE: To quantitatively assess the evidence from epidemiological time-series studies published worldwide to determine whether and to what extent short-term exposure to NO2 is associated with increased numbers of daily deaths and hospital admissions.

DESIGN: We conducted a quantitative systematic review of 204 time-series studies of NO2 and daily mortality and hospital admissions for several diagnoses and ages, which were indexed in three bibliographic databases up to May 2011. We calculated random-effects estimates by different geographic regions and globally, and also tested for heterogeneity and small study bias.

RESULTS: Sufficient estimates for meta-analysis were available for 43 cause-specific and age-specific combinations of mortality or hospital admissions (25 for 24 h NO2 and 18 of the same combinations for 1 h measures). For the all-age group, a 10 µg/m(3) increase in 24 h NO2 was associated with increases in all-cause, cardiovascular and respiratory mortality (0.71% (95% CI 0.43% to 1.00%), 0.88% (0.63% to 1.13%) and 1.09% (0.75% to 1.42%), respectively), and with hospital admissions for respiratory (0.57% (0.33% to 0.82%)) and cardiovascular (0.66% (0.32% to 1.01%)) diseases. Evidence of heterogeneity between geographical region-specific estimates was identified in more than half of the combinations analysed.

CONCLUSIONS: Our review provides clear evidence of health effects associated with short-term exposure to NO2 although further work is required to understand reasons for the regional heterogeneity observed. The growing literature, incorporating large multicentre studies and new evidence from less well-studied regions of the world, supports further quantitative review to assess the independence of NO2 health effects from other air pollutants.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere006946
Number of pages9
JournalBMJ open
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2015


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