background photo of smoggy city with inset photos of Scott Zeger, Francesca Dominici, and Jonathan Samet

Fine, Deadly Particles

Americans take for granted that their air and water will not make them sick, but that is not always the case.

By Lisa DeNike

The air that city dwellers breathe can have a very definite—and quite negative—impact on their health. Francesca Dominici, a Biostatistics associate professor, has focused her career on gathering information about how human health and well-being are affected by air quality.

One recent study, for instance, revealed that more city dwellers die from heart and respiratory diseases on smoggy days than on days when the air is cleaner.

In research that is part of the Bloomberg School's ongoing National Morbidity Mortality and Air Pollution Study, Dominici and colleagues at the Bloomberg School and Yale linked the level of ozone (smog's main ingredient) to mortality rates in 95 American cities. The urban areas studied included Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Detroit, Nashville and Seattle. The study was the first to pair day-to-day ozone levels with an increased number of deaths.

"Our study showed that ground-level ozone is a national problem, which is not limited to a small number of cities or one region," says Dominici, PhD. "Everyone needs to be aware of the potential health risks of ozone pollution."

Dominici also made headlines more recently when she teamed up with Epidemiology chair Jonathan Samet, MD, MS, and Biostatistics chair Scott Zeger, PhD, on a study that linked the level of airborne fine, particulate matter to hospital admission rates. According to Dominici, that study "provides new and strong evidence that fine particulate matter levels adversely impact daily hospital admission rates for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in the United States."