Tuesday, January 13, 2009

“Air pollution is a real health problem”

This is an article profiling Dr. Nino Kuenzli’s group at CREAL. It appeared in the 2nd edition of El·lipse, the PRBB monthly newspaper.


The group directed by Nino Kuenzli is very “fuzzy”. As his research on health problems caused by air pollution is very interdisciplinary, he works with experts in epidemiology, statistics, genetics, molecular biology, exposure, aerosol and health sciences from all over the world.

Dr. Kuenzli’s current main project is testing the hypothesis that pollution causes atherosclerosis. He initiated a pilot study when he was in Los Angeles, in which he found a relationship between air pollution and the thickness of the arteries – a marker of atherosclerosis. He is now investigating this in adults in the Girona region. For this, he is collaborating with Jaume Marrugat’s group, from IMIM, and he’s using the 3,000 people cohort of their REGICOR cardiovascular study, which started in 2000.The images of the arteries are sent to Amsterdam where the thickness of the wall is derived. The air pollution measurements are done by Laura Bouso in Girona.

Dr. Kuenzli is also leading the air pollution group of the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS), in which more than 20 centres around Europe collaborate; he and Raquel Garcia work in a Swiss study (SAPALDIA) to investigate the effect of air pollution on adult asthma; he is an advisor in EGEA, a French study on genetics and asthma; and he’s a collaborator of the most important air pollution study ever done in children, the Children’s Health Study of the University of Southern California (USC), in which thousands of children participate in lung function measurements every year since 1992. Maria Mirabelli, a collaborator of Dr. Kuenzli, is now investigating the impact of wild-fires on the health of these children. Moreover, Dr. Kuenzli and the USC team just started a further study on air pollution, atherosclerosis, and lung health with USC college students– the TROY study.

According to Dr. Kuenzli, Barcelona is too polluted even by the lax European standards, very car-oriented and with extremely dense traffic. “It has been shown that children who live within 100 m of dense traffic have more problems with lung development and asthma; this should be taken into account in urban planning and policy making”. Says Dr. Kuenzli: “It is estimated that if particles go up by 10g/m3, mortality increases by ~4%”. He and Laura Pérez, a risk assessor, are estimating the health benefits of the air quality management plan of the Generalitat. The target of the plan is to be in compliance with European air quality standards by 2010.

One of the most important developments in the field, explains Dr. Kuenzli, is the improvement in estimating people’s exposure to air pollution. There are now very powerful models available, in which measurements and geographic information are used to develop air quality maps. “In simple words: to know air quality at your home, we geocode your address and link your location to these maps”.

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