Respiratory health effects of air pollution: update on biomass smoke and traffic pollution

01 Jan 2012
Respiratory topics
  • Risk factor: outdoor air pollution
  • Risk factor: indoor air pollution
Type of resource
Peer-reviewed article
Laumbach RJ, Kipen HM


Mounting evidence suggests that air pollution contributes to the large global burden of respiratory and allergic diseases, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, and possibly tuberculosis. Although associations between air pollution and respiratory disease are complex, recent epidemiologic studies have led to an increased recognition of the emerging importance of traffic-related air pollution in both developed and less-developed countries, as well as the continued importance of emissions from domestic fires burning biomass fuels, primarily in the less-developed world. Emissions from these sources lead to personal exposures to complex mixtures of air pollutants that change rapidly in space and time because of varying emission rates, distances from source, ventilation rates, and other factors. Although the high degree of variability in personal exposure to pollutants from these sources remains a challenge, newer methods for measuring and modeling these exposures are beginning to unravel complex associations with asthma and other respiratory tract diseases. These studies indicate that air pollution from these sources is a major preventable cause of increased incidence and exacerbation of respiratory disease. Physicians can help to reduce the risk of adverse respiratory effects of exposure to biomass and traffic air pollutants by promoting awareness and supporting individual and community-level interventions.