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Temperature, Not Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5), is Causally Associated with Short-Term Acute Daily Mortality Rates: Results from One Hundred United States Cities

Temperature, Not Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5), is Causally Associated with Short-Term Acute Daily Mortality Rates: Results from One Hundred United States Cities

Dose-Response 11(3): 319-343

Exposures to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in air (C) have been suspected of contributing causally to increased acute (e.g., same-day or next-day) human mortality rates (R). We tested this causal hypothesis in 100 United States cities using the publicly available NMMAPS database. Although a significant, approximately linear, statistical C-R association exists in simple statistical models, closer analysis suggests that it is not causal. Surprisingly, conditioning on other variables that have been extensively considered in previous analyses (usually using splines or other smoothers to approximate their effects), such as month of the year and mean daily temperature, suggests that they create strong, nonlinear confounding that explains the statistical association between PM2.5 and mortality rates in this data set. As this finding disagrees with conventional wisdom, we apply several different techniques to examine it. Conditional independence tests for potential causation, non-parametric classification tree analysis, Bayesian Model Averaging (BMA), and Granger-Sims causality testing, show no evidence that PM2.5 concentrations have any causal impact on increasing mortality rates. This apparent absence of a causal C-R relation, despite their statistical association, has potentially important implications for managing and communicating the uncertain health risks associated with, but not necessarily caused by, PM2.5 exposures.

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Accession: 056138922

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PMID: 23983662

DOI: 10.2203/dose-response.12-034.cox

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