Geographical Information Systems and Environmental Epidemiology: A Cross-sectional Spatial Analysis of the Effects of Traffic-related Air Pollution on Population Respiratory Health

Environmental Health 2011, 10:12, Published 01 March 2011

Daniela Nuvolone, Roberto della Maggiore, Sara Maio, Roberto Fresco, Sandra Baldacci, Laura Carrozzi, Francesco Pistelli, and Giovanni Viegi

“Background: Traffic-related air pollution is a potential risk factor for human respiratory health. A Geographical Information System (GIS) approach was used to examine whether distance from a main road (the Tosco-Romagnola road) affected respiratory health status.

“Methods: We used data collected during an epidemiological survey performed in the Pisa-Cascina area (central Italy) in the period 1991-93. A total of 2841 subjects participated in the survey and filled in a standardized questionnaire on health status, socio-demographic information, and personal habits. A variable proportion of subjects performed lung function and allergy tests. Highly exposed subjects were defined as those living within 100m of the main road, moderately exposed as those living between 100 and 250m from the road, and unexposed as those living between 250 and 800m from the road. Statistical analyses were conducted to compare the risks for respiratory symptoms and diseases between exposed and unexposed. All analyses were stratified by gender.

“Results: The study comprised 2062 subjects: mean age was 45.9 years for men and 48.9 years for women. Compared to subjects living between 250m and 800m from the main road, subjects living within 100m of the main road had increased adjusted risks for persistent wheeze (OR = 1.76, 95% CI = 1.08-2.87), COPD diagnosis (OR = 1.80, 95% CI = 1.03-3.08), and reduced FEV1/FVC ratio (OR = 2.07, 95% CI = 1.11-3.87) among males, and for dyspnea (OR = 1.61, 95% CI = 1.13-2.27), positivity to skin prick test (OR = 1.83, 95% CI = 1.11-3.00), diagnosed asthma (OR = 1.68, 95% CI = 0.97-2.88) and attacks of shortness of breath with wheeze (OR = 1.67, 95% CI = 0.98-2.84) among females.

“Conclusion: This study points out the potential effects of traffic-related air pollution on respiratory health status, including lung function impairment. It also highlights the added value of GIS in environmental health research.”