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Particulate Air Pollution, Exceptional Aging, and Rates of Centenarians: A Nationwide Analysis of the United States, 1980–2010

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Exceptional aging, defined as reaching age 85 years, shows geographic inequalities that may depend on local environmental conditions. Links between particulate pollution-a well-recognized environmental risk factor-and exceptional aging have not been investigated.


We conducted a nationwide analysis of ~28 million adults in 3,034 United States counties to determine whether local PM2.5 levels (particulate matter < 2.5 μm in aerodynamic diameter) affected the probability of becoming 85- to 94-year-olds or centenarians (100- to 104-year-olds) in 2010 for individuals who were 55-64 or 70-74 years old, respectively, in 1980.


We used population-weighted regression models including county-level PM2.5 from hybrid land-use regression and geostatistical interpolation, smoking, obesity, sociodemographic, and age-specific migration variables.


On average, 2,295 and 71.4 per 10,000 of the 55- to 64- and 70- to 74-year-olds in 1980, respectively, remained in the 85- to 94- and 100- to 104-year-old population in 2010. An interquartile range (4.19 μg/m3) increase in PM2.5 was associated with 93.7 fewer 85- to 94-year-olds (p < 0.001) and 3.5 fewer centenarians (p < 0.05). These associations were nearly linear, were stable to model specification, and were detectable below the annual PM2.5 national standard. Exceptional aging was strongly associated with smoking, with an interquartile range (4.77%) increase in population who smoked associated with 181.9 fewer 85- to 94-year-olds (p < 0.001) and 6.4 fewer centenarians (p < 0.001). Exceptional aging was also associated with obesity rates and median income.


Communities with the most exceptional aging have low ambient air pollution and low rates of smoking, poverty, and obesity. Improvements in these determinants may contribute to increasing exceptional aging. Citation: Baccarelli AA, Hales N, Burnett RT, Jerrett M, Mix C, Dockery DW, Pope CA III. 2016. Particulate air pollution, exceptional aging, and rates of centenarians: a nationwide analysis of the United States, 1980-2010. Environ Health Perspect 124:1744-1750;

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