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Particulate matter components and subclinical atherosclerosis: common approaches to estimating exposure in a Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis cross-sectional study

Min Sun12, Joel D Kaufman134, Sun-Young Kim1, Timothy V Larson5, Timothy R Gould5, Joseph F Polak6, Matthew J Budoff7, Ana V Diez Roux8 and Sverre Vedal1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington School of Public Health, 4225 Roosevelt Way NE, #100, Seattle, WA, 98105, USA

2 Department of Occupational Health, Tianjin Medical University School of Public Health, Tianjin, China

3 Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA, USA

4 Department of Epidemiology, University of Washington School of Public Health, Seattle, WA, USA

5 Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Washington College of Engineering, Seattle, WA, USA

6 Department of Radiology, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA

7 Department of Medicine, University of California David Gelfen School of Medicine at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA

8 Department of Epidemiology, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, MI, USA

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Environmental Health 2013, 12:39  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-12-39

Published: 3 May 2013



Concentrations of outdoor fine particulate matter (PM2.5) have been associated with cardiovascular disease. PM2.5 chemical composition may be responsible for effects of exposure to PM2.5.


Using data from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) collected in 2000–2002 on 6,256 US adults without clinical cardiovascular disease in six U.S. metropolitan areas, we investigated cross-sectional associations of estimated long-term exposure to total PM2.5 mass and PM2.5 components (elemental carbon [EC], organic carbon [OC], silicon and sulfur) with measures of subclinical atherosclerosis (coronary artery calcium [CAC] and right common carotid intima-media thickness [CIMT]). Community monitors deployed for this study from 2007 to 2008 were used to estimate exposures at baseline addresses using three commonly-used approaches: (1) nearest monitor (the primary approach), (2) inverse-distance monitor weighting and (3) city-wide average.


Using the exposure estimate based on nearest monitor, in single-pollutant models, increased OC (effect estimate [95% CI] per IQR: 35.1 μm [26.8, 43.3]), EC (9.6 μm [3.6,15.7]), sulfur (22.7 μm [15.0,30.4]) and total PM2.5 (14.7 μm [9.0,20.5]) but not silicon (5.2 μm [−9.8,20.1]), were associated with increased CIMT; in two-pollutant models, only the association with OC was robust to control for the other pollutants. Findings were generally consistent across the three exposure estimation approaches. None of the PM measures were positively associated with either the presence or extent of CAC. In sensitivity analyses, effect estimates for OC and silicon were particularly sensitive to control for metropolitan area.


Employing commonly-used exposure estimation approaches, all of the PM2.5 components considered, except silicon, were associated with increased CIMT, with the evidence being strongest for OC; no component was associated with increased CAC. PM2.5 chemical components, or other features of the sources that produced them, may be important in determining the effect of PM exposure on atherosclerosis. These cross-sectional findings await confirmation in future work employing longitudinal outcome measures and using more sophisticated approaches to estimating exposure.

Atherosclerosis; Cardiovascular diseases; Coronary artery disease; Air pollution; Particulate matter