The 1952 London Smog Event Still Impacts Health Of Those Exposed Today

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Jamie T Mullins PhD Environmental Economics and Applied Microeconomic Department of Resource Economics University of Massachusetts Amherst Amherst, MA 01003

Dr. Jamie Mullins

Jamie T Mullins PhD
Environmental Economics and Applied Microeconomic
Department of Resource Economics
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Amherst, MA 01003 What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Episodic triggers of asthma are widely known, but the root causes of the condition still aren’t well understood. There is also very limited evidence on the long-term impacts of exposure to air pollution. Speaking to both issues, we find evidence linking the development of asthma to exposure to a significant air pollution event early in life.

The 1952 London Smog provides a natural experiment for studying the underlying cause of asthma and the long-term effects of air pollution exposure, while limiting threats from statistical confounding. The London Smog (also called the “Great Smog”) dramatically increased concentrations of air pollution across the city in December of 1952. We compare the incidence of asthma among those exposed to the Great Smog in utero or the first year of life to those in relevant comparison groups, including those conceived after the incident and those residing outside the affected area at the time of the Smog. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: We find that children exposed to the London Smog within their first year of life were more likely to have asthma later in life. From baseline childhood asthma rates of about 4%, we find rates among those exposed to the London Smog during the first year of life of >20%. We also find suggestive evidence that exposure to the London Smog in utero increased the likelihood of developing childhood asthma, and that early life exposure to the London Smog increased the reported rates of asthma in adulthood. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: These results link early life pollution exposure to the development of asthma and demonstrate impacts of air pollution exposure that persist long after the exposure occurs. While the London Smog took place more than 60 years ago, its impacts on the health of those exposed continue to this day.

Unfortunately, pollution levels comparable in magnitude to those of the London Smog continue to occur in the megacities of the developing world, with troubling implications for the millions of individuals that live within them. For instance, Beijing experienced some of its highest recorded levels of air pollution as recently as November 2015. While it has long been understood that pollution events have an immediate impact on population health, our findings suggest that such events also continue to impact the health of those exposed for many years to come. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: Additionally, our results regarding the role of early life exposure to air pollution as a root cause of asthma provide policy makers and physicians with potentially new insights to address the growing prevalence of the condition. Thank you for your contribution to the community.

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2016 Jul 8. [Epub ahead of print]
Early Life Exposure to the Great Smog of 1952 and the Development of Asthma.
Bharadwaj P1, Graff Zivin J2, Mullins JT3, Neidell M4.

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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