Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Completed Projects

Project Title:

Time-space geographies and exposure to air pollution: examining the impact of varying exposure to air pollution on the health of adults and birth outcomes

Project Number:



Chris Dibben (University of St Andrews)
Zhiqiang Feng (University of St Andrews)
Alison Macfarlane (City University)
Tom Clemens (University of Edinburgh)

Start Date:

Awaiting approval


There is growing evidence that air pollution has adverse effects on human health [1] including a damaging effect on outcomes of pregnancy [2-4]. Most studies have relied on the routine monitoring of air pollution from a few stations and then extrapolated their data across large areas. These studies rely on daily or hourly changes in air pollution to produce sufficient variation in individual level exposure to test the impact of different levels of pollutants. This introduces a number of problems. First, there is the potential for error in the estimation of individual exposure from city or area-wide measurements. Second, if only a small number of monitoring sites are used, considerable variation at the same monitoring site over time is required for there to be sufficient difference between individuals to examine the impact of pollutants. The observed relationship between air pollution and health may also be distorted by confounding factors, such as socio-economic status. There is, for example, a well-established association between economic prosperity and health [5] and this can lead to higher rates of adverse outcomes in polluted areas which may not necessarily relate to levels of pollution [3].

Despite the increasing number of studies in this area, as air pollution constitutes a complex exposure, so a consistent pattern of pollutants and exposure times is not emerging. Further research is required to corroborate findings. This study will use small area level estimates of annual exposure covering the whole of Scotland. The variation is therefore related to annual average exposures in a large number of ‘small areas’ rather than from the accumulated exposures of individual’s living in fairly close proximity. This study will also attempt to calculate a realistic level of daily exposure using both residential address and place of work/ study, where recorded in the SLS. It will model this for a number of health effects including deaths, hospital admissions and birth outcomes.

There is growing evidence, from studies in a large number of different countries, that air pollution has an adverse effects on human health [1]. Pollution is typically measured with reference to an individual’s place of residence; however this will represent only a part of their daily exposure. This study aims to explore the effect of pollution more fully, using not only the person’s place of residence but also information on where they work or study.

Specifically it will consider evidence of an increased risk of:

  • death
  • hospitalisation
  • cancer registration
  • negative birth outcome


  1. WHO. Health aspects of air pollution with particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen dioxide. Report on a WHO Working Group. Bonn: World Health Organization, 2003.

  2. Sram RJ, Binkova B, Dejmek J, Bobak M. Ambient air pollution and pregnancy outcomes: a review of the literature. Environ Health Perspect 2005;113(4):375-82.

  3. WHO. Effects of Air Pollution on Children's Health and Development: A review of the evidence: World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe, 2005.

  4. Lacasana M, Esplugues A, Ballester F. Exposure to ambient air pollution and prenatal and early childhood health effects. Eur J Epidemiol 2005;20(2):183-99.

  5. Mitchell G, Dorling D. An environmental justice analysis of British air quality. Environment and Planning A 2003;35(5):909-929.

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