Air Pollution Tied to Kidney Disease

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Add a new potential ill to the list of problems linked to air pollution: kidney disease.

Previous studies have linked high levels of the fine particulate matter known as PM 2.5 to cardiovascular disease and stroke. A new analysis, in The Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, followed 2,482,737 veterans for an average of eight and a half years. The Department of Veterans Affairs database includes information on glomerular filtration rate, or G.F.R., a measure of kidney function.

Using data on air pollution from NASA and the Environmental Protection Agency, the researchers found that increases in PM 2.5 corresponded directly with decreases in G.F.R., indicating worsening kidney function. PM 2.5 particles are small enough to enter the bloodstream where they make their way to the kidneys, which are especially prone to injury from pollutants.

The scientists calculate that “unhealthy” pollution levels lead to an annual increase of 44,793 cases of chronic kidney disease, and 2,438 cases of end-stage kidney disease requiring dialysis. Even levels below those considered “safe” increased risk.

The senior author, Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, an assistant professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, said that diabetes and hypertension are still the major drivers of kidney disease. But, he said, “Air pollution is a previously unrecognized factor for kidney disease and kidney disease progression.”