Air Pollution and Kidney Health: A Possible Link

Pollution is a massive problem in the United States, affecting the air breathed by millions of Americans. Not surprisingly, arial pollutants have been linked to numerous health issues, ranging from stroke to heart disease and even cancer. As if these problems weren’t concerning enough, a new study suggests that pollution can even prove damaging to the kidneys.

Government Help

This study represented a collaborative effort between Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Veterans Affairs (VA) St. Louis Health Care System. For their project, the team examined data stored in VA databases. To say that the databases provided a plethora of information would be an understatement; thanks to these sources, the study authors reviewed data from nearly 2.5 million people.

The data encompassed an 8 1⁄2 year period, and included test results on the kidney functionality of thousands of adults. The team also had access to air pollution readings gathered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Using these pollution measurements, the authors came to an alarming conclusion – airborne pollutants might be responsible for nearly 45,000 cases of kidney disease. Moreover, aerial contaminants may have caused about 2,500 cases of kidney failure over the same period.

The Problem of Particulate Matter

In reflecting on his team’s work, senior author Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly stated flatly that “air pollution is a risk factor for kidney disease development. You can argue that it’s even more of a problem in countries like China or India, where pollution is
much, much, much worse.” Al-Aly further noted that, prior to his team’s undertaking, “data on the relationship between air pollution and kidney disease in humans has been scarce. However, once we analyzed the data, the link between air pollution and the development of kidney disease was clear.”

The researchers focused their efforts on the effects of particulate matter (PM). Particulate matter includes the following pollutants:
• Dust
• Pollen
• Soot
• Ash
• Smoke
• Liquid Droplets

By itself, the study does not prove that air pollution definitively causes severe kidney damage. However, Al-Aly notes that controlled animal studies have observed a similar connection between pollution exposure and kidney damage. The study appeared in online in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

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