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Quantitative Characterization of Uncertainty in the Concentration–Response Relationship between Long-Term PM2.5 Exposure and Mortality at Low Concentrations

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journal contribution
posted on 06.08.2020, 14:17 by Evan Coffman, Richard T. Burnett, Jason D. Sacks
Extensive epidemiologic evidence supports a linear, no-threshold concentration–response (C-R) relationship between long-term exposure to fine particles (PM2.5) and mortality in the United States. While examinations of the C-R relationship are designed to assess the shape of the C-R curve, they do not provide the information needed to quantitatively characterize uncertainty at specific PM2.5 concentrations, which is often needed in the context of risk assessments and benefits analyses. We developed a novel approach, using information that is typically available in published epidemiologic studies, to quantitatively characterize uncertainty at different concentrations along the PM2.5 concentration distribution. Our approach utilizes the annual mean PM2.5 concentration and corresponding standard deviation from a published epidemiologic study to estimate the standard deviation of hypothetical PM2.5 concentration distributions defined at 0.1 μg/m3 increments. The hypothetical distributions are then used to derive adjusted uncertainty estimates in the reported effect estimate at low concentrations (i.e., concentrations lower than the annual mean observed in the study). We demonstrate the application of this method in six individual epidemiologic studies that examined the relationship between long-term PM2.5 exposure and mortality and were conducted in different geographic locations worldwide and at different PM2.5 concentrations. This new method allows for a more comprehensive quantitative evaluation of uncertainty in the shape of the C-R relationship between long-term PM2.5 exposure and mortality at concentrations below the mean annual concentrations observed in current studies.