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Air Pollution

Long-Term Air Pollution Exposure Could Raise Risk for Depression, Anxiety

By Jonathan Springston, Editor, Relias Media

Decades spent breathing polluted air could raise one’s risk of developing anxiety and depression, according to the authors of two recently published papers.

In the first study, investigators examined data from the UK Biobank for participants who were recruited between March 13, 2006, and Oct. 1, 2010. These subjects had never been diagnosed with anxiety or depression at baseline. Full information was available regarding exposure to multiple air pollutants and covariates.

During a median follow-up of almost 11 years, among more than 389,000 participants (mean age, 56.7 years; 205,855 women), the authors reported 13,131 were diagnosed with depression and 15,835 were diagnosed with anxiety.

“Long-term estimated exposure to multiple air pollutants was associated with increased risk of depression and anxiety, and the exposure-response curves were nonlinear, with steeper slopes at lower concentrations and plateauing trends at higher exposure,” the authors wrote. “The nonlinear associations may have important implications for policymaking in air pollution control. Reductions in joint exposure to multiple air pollutants may alleviate the disease burden of depression and anxiety.”

In the second study, researchers scrutinized data from Medicare. The authors focused on patients older than age 64 years who were enrolled continuously in the fee-for-service program, along with both Medicare Part A and Part B. After a five-year “washout” period at entry, there were more than 8.9 million unique individuals who were covered over the study period (2005 to 2016) who contributed more than 1.5 million late-onset depression diagnoses.

The investigators reported that for every five-unit increase in long-term mean exposure to fine particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone, there was an adjusted percentage increase in depression risk of 0.91%.

“The study findings have implications for both environmental regulation and public health management,” the authors concluded. “Due to the high prevalence and universal exposure to the ambient environment, if statistically significant associations could be established for modifiable risk factors of depression, such as air pollution, preventive population-based solutions could be applied to help control the disease burden through air quality regulation, emission control, and greener planning for living environments.”

In January, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opened for public comment a proposal to maintain the primary 24-hour fine particle pollution standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter. The agency also is considering lowering that level to as low as 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

On Monday, in an event organized by the Climate Action Campaign, members of Congress and representatives from various organizations, including the American Lung Association, Johns Hopkins, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, called on the Biden administration to adopt “the strongest possible standards to limit soot.”

Comments on the EPA proposal are open until March 28, 2023. For more information on this and related subjects, be sure to read the latest issues of Clinical Cardiology Alert, Integrative Medicine Alert, Internal Medicine Alert, Neurology Alert, and Primary Care Reports.