Scholars launch 5-year study to determine air pollution, morbidity link in Haifa

The research is being led by University of Haifa professors and involves the participation of 20 research teams from nine different institutions – including Harvard University.

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March 25, 2015 18:20
3 minute read.
Haifa

A young girl looks down over the city of Haifa.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Aiming to determine whether there is a link between air pollution and morbidity in the Haifa Bay region, academics from Israel and around the world launched a project on Tuesday that will study these questions for the next five years.

Sponsored by the Haifa District Municipal Association for Environmental Protection, the study will explore the link between airborne contaminants and illness in the region with a comprehensiveness and precision never yet undertaken, according to the project’s leaders. The research is being led by University of Haifa professors Boris Portnov, Rafael Carel, and Shai Linn, and involves the participation of 20 research teams from nine different institutions, including Harvard University.

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For years, the Haifa Bay region has experienced high air pollution levels as well as excessive incidence of illnesses and death in comparison to other areas in Israel, stressed Prof. Shmuel Rishpon, the Health Ministry’s Haifa District Physician.

“Any reasonable person realizes that there is a connection,” Rishpon said at the study’s launch event in Haifa on Tuesday night, according to a statement released by University of Haifa.

Risphon emphasized, however, that just because there is a connection between the air pollution and the morbidity and mortality does not necessarily mean that there is a causal link between the two. Such a causal link – the idea that air pollution may be responsible for the morbidity and mortality – is difficult to determine due to the challenges associated with measuring exactly what contaminants each person is exposed to.

“We hope that, thanks to this study, we will know for the first time, based on scientific facts, if there is a causal link between air pollution in the Haifa Bay and the excessive mortality and morbidity in the region, and if so, what contaminants exactly contribute to this,” Rishpon said.

Despite the fact that in recent years air quality measurements have indicated that Haifa has become much cleaner than other regions in the country, morbidity rates did not drop, he explained.

“Therefore, we have launched this study, the largest and most expansive of its kind in the country,” Risphon said.

Factories in the region have pledged to make use of the study’s findings to improve public health, assuming that the study produces such usable indications, he added.

Portnov, the project manager and a professor at University of Haifa’s natural resources and environmental management division, said that the study will make use of unique mechanisms designed to cope with the difficulties researchers face in assessing air pollutant impact.

To do so, the study will include references to population differences, including socioeconomic status and residential density, he explained.

Also to be included will be medical data from IDF recruits, and for the first time, information acquired from biological monitoring systems that measure contaminants in residents’ bodies.

The specific objectives of the study are fourfold, according to an executive summary of the project. These objectives include determining geographic patterns and prevalence rates of population morbidity in Haifa relative to Tel Aviv and Hadera, annual changes in geographic patterns of population morbidity and mortality, the strength of association between population morbidity and air pollution and annual changes in the strength of the association.

In addition to the IDF medical data and the biological monitoring results, the study will make use of information from the Israel National Cancer Registry, records from mother and child outpatient clinics and computerized records of health maintenances organizations – specifically looking at asthma prevalence among six through 14 year olds, the summary said.

“I hope we obtain an initial indication of the results already by the end of the first year of the study,” Portnov added.


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