Long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution and selected health outcomes: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Dec 31, 2014

The health effects of traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) continue to be of important public health interest. Following its well-cited 2010 critical review, the Health Effects Institute (HEI) appointed a new expert Panel to systematically evaluate the epidemiological evidence regarding the associations between long-term exposure to TRAP and selected adverse health outcomes. Health outcomes were selected based on evidence of causality for general air pollution (broader than TRAP) cited in authoritative reviews, relevance for public health and policy, and resources available.

The Panel used a systematic approach to search the literature, select studies for inclusion in the review, assess study quality, summarize results, and reach conclusions about the confidence in the evidence. An extensive search was conducted of literature published between January 1980 and July 2019 on selected health outcomes. A new exposure framework was developed to determine whether a study was sufficiently specific to TRAP.

In total, 353 studies were included in the review. Respiratory effects in children (118 studies) and birth outcomes (86 studies) were the most commonly studied outcomes. Fewer studies investigated cardiometabolic effects (57 studies), respiratory effects in adults (50 studies), and mortality (48 studies).

The findings from the systematic review, meta-analyses, and evaluation of the quality of the studies and potential biases provided an overall high or moderate-to-high level of confidence in an association between long-term exposure to TRAP and the adverse health outcomes all-cause, circulatory, ischemic heart disease and lung cancer mortality, asthma onsetin chilldren and adults, and acute lower respiratory infections in children. The evidence was considered moderate, low or very low for the other selected outcomes.

In light of the large number of people exposed to TRAP – both in and beyond the near-road environment - the Panel concluded that the overall high or moderate-to-high confidence in the evidence for an association between long-term exposure to TRAP and several adverse health outcomes indicates that exposures to TRAP remain an important public health concern and deserve greater attention from the public and from policymakers.

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