The impact of ambient air pollution on hospital admissions


Institutional Communication Service

7 October 2019

Air pollution is the centre of debate on many fronts, from air protection measures involving road traffic, to technological innovations to reduce harmful emissions. A recent study carried out by Prof. Filippini and Prof. Masiero "The impact of ambient air pollution on hospital admissions" investigates the relationship between pollution and hospitalisation: based on the data collected on patients in Switzerland, the research highlights the health costs generated by air pollution, not covered by those who cause it, and contributes to the ongoing discussion about future environmental policies.

There has been a lot of talk in Ticino over the summer about air pollution, ozone threshold, and measures to reduce the impact on the environment. Prof. Filippini, Full Professor in Economics at Università della Svizzera italiana and at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (holder of a joint USI-ETHZ chair), recently spoke in an interview with SRF Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen about the C02 tax on petrol. He explained using one of his studies, how the incentive tax makes sense, but in order to reduce emissions, one needs to also target the market and not only consumers and their investments in the energy sector, which are not always rational.

Beyond the measures that have been or will be implemented in Switzerland and internationally, and beyond the technological progress that brings and will bring more efficient and 'clean' means, air pollution remains one of the factors of greatest impact on health. The new study - The impact of ambient air pollution on hospital admissions (Filippini, Masiero, Steinbach) - explores the impact of pollution on hospital admissions. "The social costs of air pollution are divided into environmental and health costs. – explains Filippini – Health costs due to respiratory diseases, hospital admission, and loss of productivity. A good chunk of these costs is determined by transportation, and according to 2016 figures by the Federal Office for Spatial Development, they amount to several billions of francs. Such costs are not covered by those who pollute, therefore those who cause the damage do not pay. This research is part of the effort to provide essential data to calculate social costs more precisely.” 

Among the air pollutants that have the greatest impact on health, because they are associated with higher mortality and disease rates, are particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur (SO2) and ground-level ozone (O2). The research is based on the number of hospital admissions in Switzerland (between 2001 and 2013) in the MedStat region (a spatial concept used by the Swiss authorities to ensure anonymity of data), and it differs from previous studies because of its new approach and better access to patient data. Exposure to pollution is measured using a mathematical simulation model that replicates atmospheric conditions and takes into account various sources of emission. In addition, more attention is paid to topography, for a more accurate assessment of the effects, as the configuration of a place has a strong impact on the dispersion of air pollutants.

The results are intended to contribute to a more accurate assessment of the health costs of pollution and thus of future environmental policies aimed at reducing exposure to air pollution.

Further information can be found here.