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Press Releases

March 31, 2009

Exposure to Traffic Pollution Linked to Increased Risk of Developing Rheumatoid Arthritis

   Boston, MA – Using data from the Nurses’ Health Study, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and colleagues found that exposure to traffic pollution may increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA). These findings appear in an advanced online publication of Environmental Health Perspectives.

Researchers looked at the records of 90,000 female participants in the Nurses’ Health Study and used Geographical Information Software to measure the distance between each individual’s home in 2000 and the nearest major roadways. Women who lived within 50 meters of interstates or primary, multi-lane roads had a 31 percent increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis compared with women who lived more than 200 meters away from major roadways.

“Even after accounting for the effects of age, race, sex, socioeconomic status and cigarette smoking, the increased risk for women located nearer major roads remained substantially higher,” said Jaime Hart, ScD, research fellow in the Channing Laboratory at BWH. And while looking more closely at nurses who lived within 50 meters of the very largest roadways, the risk jumped from 31 to 63 percent.

Genetic factors are thought to account for less than 50 percent of RA risk, and previous research has indicated that environmental factors, such as cigarette smoke, may increase the risk of development, noted Hart. “This coupled with prior research that suggests air pollution from traffic can cause systemic inflammation prompted us to study whether there was a direct relationship between air pollution and risk of RA.”

Hart explains that this research will prompt further investigation to determine to which degree specific, measured pollution levels increase risk of development of RA.

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health.

View full text of the study here.  

Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) is a 777-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare, an integrated health care delivery network. In July of 2008, the hospital opened the Carl J. and Ruth Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, the most advanced center of its kind. BWH is committed to excellence in patient care with expertise in virtually every specialty of medicine and surgery.  The BWH medical preeminence dates back to 1832, and today that rich history in clinical care is coupled with its national leadership in quality improvement and patient safety initiatives and its dedication to educating and training the next generation of health care professionals. Through investigation and discovery conducted at its Biomedical Research Institute (BRI), BWH is an international leader in basic, clinical and translational research on human diseases, involving more than 860 physician-investigators and renowned biomedical scientists and faculty supported by more than $416 M in funding. BWH is also home to major landmark epidemiologic population studies, including the Nurses' and Physicians' Health Studies and the Women's Health Initiative. For more information about BWH, please visit