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Health effects of particulate matter in relation to physical-chemical characteristics and meteorology (PARHEALTH) (PHASE II)

Research project SD/HE/01B (Research action SD)

Persons :

Description :


Numerous studies have shown a strong association between daily mortality and fine particulate air pollution. However, component-specific toxicity has not been characterized well. In this regard the research unit of lung toxicology (KULeuven) collected unique data for Belgium on the association between fine particulate air pollution and mortality (total, cardiovascular and respiratory mortality) showing that the effects of air pollution are much stronger in summer than in winter, even in our temperate climate. Until now, we can only speculate about the mechanisms underlying the much stronger association between mortality and particulates during warmer periods, even though particulate levels reach higher values in the winter.

Project description

This project aims at reducing the health risks and health costs attributable to particulate pollution, through the identification its components that are responsible for the adverse health effects.


1. To investigate the short-term effects of particulates (both mass and physical-chemical characteristics) and ozone using sensitive endpoints of cardiovascular and respiratory responses in two susceptible segments of the population (children and elderly) in which the parameters will be measured in the same person within the same day (before and after ozone peak) and across seasons on days with relatively high and low concentrations of fine particulates in the ambient air which will allow to determine possible threshold levels of PM and ozone in an integrated approach.
2. Optimizing advanced analytical techniques for identification and quantification of specific organic compounds on particulates.
3. To explore the component-specific toxicity (chemical and physical) of particulates in association with meteorological conditions.


In a cohort of children and a cohort of elderly, the network will measure cardiovascular and respiratory parameters in the same person within the day and across seasons and evaluate their relationship with both physical properties and specific inorganic and organic components associated with particulates. This specific experimental design will allow us to study the particulate induced effects, in association with ozone peaks, independently of the direct meteorological effects.

Interaction between partners

Children and elderly represent two segments in the population which are susceptible for the short-term effects of air pollution. In this regard the unit of Lung Toxicology (KULeuven) showed that ultrafine carbon particles may pass rapidly into the systemic circulation and showed significant effects of air pollution for the elderly on total and cardiovascular mortality, while the unit of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology of the UCLouvain (Brussels) studied effects –mainly ozone- on lung inflammation in children. In line with evidence gained from this previous work, the project will study the effects of air pollution non-invasively with a focus on both the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. B. Nemery and T. Nawrot coordinate the project and are responsible for the recruitment of elderly. A. Bernard and M. Nickmilder (Unité de toxicologie industrielle et de médecine du travail van de UCLouvain) are in charge for the recruitment of children and the measurement of inflammatory parameters. The component-specific toxicity of particulates will be determined by the department of Organic Chemistry Ugent and Environmental Chemistry of the Uantwerpen). The Royal Meteorological Institute, Brussels will deliver meteorological parameters which will be linked to component-specific toxicity of particulates, furthermore they will broadcast peak ozone and particulate air concentrations to organize the field work at those days.

Expected results

Elucidating the component specific toxicity and the pathophysiology of the association between cardiopulmonary effects of particulate exposure may open an important new avenue for the prevention of cardiopulmonary complications and the environmental regulations of particulate air pollution. An improved knowledge on which chemical compounds are associated with the adverse health effects will achieve cost-effective reductions in health risks to populations. In view of the high prevalence of cardiopulmonary illness, even a small benefit in terms of preventable cases, will lead to an appreciable decrease in morbidity, an increase in longevity, and in turn, to a decrease in health care costs. This project will also advise the National and Regional Governments on environmental regulations, permissible levels of particulate exposure with characterisation of specific compounds, and strategies to identify at an early stage subjects at an increased cardiopulmonary risk.

Contact information


Benoit Nemery & Tim Nawrot
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KULeuven)
Eenheid voor Longtoxicologie
Herestraat 49, bus 706
B-3000 Leuven.
Tel: +32 (0)16 34.71.18


Alfred Bernard & Marc Nickmilder
Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL)
Unité de toxicologie industrielle et de médecine du travail
Clos Chapelle-aux-Champs 30.54,
B-1200 Brussel
Tel: +32 (0)2 764 39 34

Herman Van Langenhove, Jo Dewulf & Kristof Demeestere
Ghent University (Ugent)
Coupure Links 653
B-9000 Gent
Tel: +32 (0)9 264 59 53

René Van Grieken & Anna De Maeyer-Worobiec
Universteit Antwerpen (UA)
Milieuchemie, Campus Drie Eiken
Universiteitsplein 1
B-2610 Antwerpen
Tel: +32 (0)3 820 23 62

Hugo De Backer & Andy Delcloo
Koninklijk Meteorologisch Instituut
Ringlaan 3
B-1180 Brussel
Tel: +32 (0)2 373 05 94

Folluw-up Committee

Myriam Bossuyt - Vlaamse Milieumaatschappij (MIRA)
Yseult Navez - FPS Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment
Frans Fierens - CELINE-IRCEL
Yves Lenelle - Institut Bruxellois pour la Gestion de l'Environnement (IBGE)
Maja Mampaey - AMINAL
Suzanne Remy - Institut Scientifique de Service Public (ISSeP)
Edward Roekens - Vlaamse Milieu Maatschappij - Afdeling Meetnetten en Onderzoek
Rudi Torfs - Vlaamse Instelling voor Technologisch Onderzoek (VITO)
Peter Vanderstraeten - Institut Bruxellois pour la Gestion de l'Environnement (IBGE)

Documentation :

Health effects of particulate matter in relation to physical-chemical characteristics and meteorology "PARHEALTH" : final report  Nemery, Benoit - Bernard, Alfred - Van Langenhove, Herman ... et al  Brussels : Federal Science Policy, 2011 (SP2433)
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