Background: Negative effects of long-term exposure to particulate matter (PM) on lung function have been shown repeatedly. Spatial differences in the composition and toxicity of PM may explain differences in observed effect sizes between studies.
Methods: We conducted a multicenter study in 5 European birth cohorts—BAMSE (Sweden), GINIplus and LISAplus (Germany), MAAS (United Kingdom), and PIAMA (The Netherlands)—for which lung function measurements were available for study subjects at the age of 6 or 8 years. Individual annual average residential exposure to copper, iron, potassium, nickel, sulfur, silicon, vanadium, and zinc within PM smaller than 2.5 μm (PM2.5) and smaller than 10 μm (PM10) was estimated using land-use regression models. Associations between air pollution and lung function were analyzed by linear regression within cohorts, adjusting for potential confounders, and then combined by random effects meta-analysis.
Results: We observed small reductions in forced expiratory volume in the first second, forced vital capacity, and peak expiratory flow related to exposure to most elemental pollutants, with the most substantial negative associations found for nickel and sulfur. PM10 nickel and PM10 sulfur were associated with decreases in forced expiratory volume in the first second of 1.6% (95% confidence interval = 0.4% to 2.7%) and 2.3% (−0.1% to 4.6%) per increase in exposure of 2 and 200 ng/m3, respectively. Associations remained after adjusting for PM mass. However, associations with these elements were not evident in all cohorts, and heterogeneity of associations with exposure to various components was larger than for exposure to PM mass.
Conclusions: Although we detected small adverse effects on lung function associated with annual average levels of some of the evaluated elements (particularly nickel and sulfur), lower lung function was more consistently associated with increased PM mass.