UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Controlled human exposure to diesel exhaust: results illuminate health effects of traffic-related air pollution and inform future directions Long, Erin; Carlsten, Christopher Russell


Air pollution is an issue of increasing interest due to its globally relevant impacts on morbidity and mortality. Controlled human exposure (CHE) studies are often employed to investigate the impacts of pollution on human health, with diesel exhaust (DE) commonly used as a surrogate of traffic related air pollution (TRAP). This paper will review the results derived from 104 publications of CHE to DE (CHE-DE) with respect to health outcomes. CHE-DE studies have provided mechanistic evidence supporting TRAP’s detrimental effects on related to the cardiovascular system (e.g., vasomotor dysfunction, inhibition of fibrinolysis, and impaired cardiac function) and respiratory system (e.g., airway inflammation, increased airway responsiveness, and clinical symptoms of asthma). Oxidative stress is thought to be the primary mechanism of TRAP-induced effects and has been supported by several CHE-DE studies. A historical limitation of some air pollution research is consideration of TRAP (or its components) in isolation, limiting insight into the interactions between TRAP and other environmental factors often encountered in tandem. CHE-DE studies can help to shed light on complex conditions, and several have included co-exposure to common elements such as allergens, ozone, and activity level. The ability of filters to mitigate the adverse effects of DE, by limiting exposure to the particulate fraction of polluted aerosols, has also been examined. While various biomarkers of DE exposure have been evaluated in CHE-DE studies, a definitive such endpoint has yet to be identified. In spite of the above advantages, this paradigm for TRAP is constrained to acute exposures and can only be indirectly applied to chronic exposures, despite the critical real-world impact of living long-term with TRAP. Those with significant medical conditions are often excluded from CHE-DE studies and so results derived from healthy individuals may not apply to more susceptible populations whose further study is needed to avoid potentially misleading conclusions. In spite of limitations, the contributions of CHE-DE studies have greatly advanced current understanding of the health impacts associated with TRAP exposure, especially regarding mechanisms therein, with important implications for regulation and policy.

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Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)