Survey of Ambient Air Pollution Health Risk Assessment Tools
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RISK ANALYSIS 36 (9, SI): 1718-1736 (September 2016)

Designing air quality policies that improve public health can benefit from information about air pollution health risks and impacts, which include respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and premature death. Several computer-based tools help automate air pollution health impact assessments and are being used for a variety of contexts. Expanding information gathered for a May 2014 World Health Organization expert meeting, we survey 12 multinational air pollution health impact assessment tools, categorize them according to key technical and operational characteristics, and identify limitations and challenges. Key characteristics include spatial resolution, pollutants and health effect outcomes evaluated, and method for characterizing population exposure, as well as tool format, accessibility, complexity, and degree of peer review and application in policy contexts. While many of the tools use common data sources for concentration-response associations, population, and baseline mortality rates, they vary in the exposure information source, format, and degree of technical complexity. We find that there is an important tradeoff between technical refinement and accessibility for a broad range of applications. Analysts should apply tools that provide the appropriate geographic scope, resolution, and maximum degree of technical rigor for the intended assessment, within resources constraints. Asystematic intercomparison of the tools' inputs, assumptions, calculations, and results would be helpful to determine the appropriateness of each for different types of assessment. Future work would benefit from accounting for multiple uncertainty sources and integrating ambient air pollution health impact assessment tools with those addressing other related health risks (e.g., smoking, indoor pollution, climate change, vehicle accidents, physical activity).
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