Emergency Rooms and Air Pollution (2008)

Paige Tolbert outside Rollins School of Public Health

The relationship between poor air quality and asthma is clear, as any ER doctor or nurse can tell you.

An Emory/Georgia Tech study is now pinpointing air quality’s impact on the heart, in conditions such as cardiac arrhythmias and congestive heart failure, and on respiratory problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, upper respiratory infections, and pneumonia.

With data from 10 million ER visits from 41 Atlanta hospitals dating back to 1994, the multidisciplinary Study of Particles and Health in Atlanta (SOPHIA) is the largest study to date examining the relationship between ER visits and air pollution on any given day.

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Emergency Rooms and Air Pollution

Unfortunately, says Paige Tolbert (pictured above), the environmental and occupational health expert in the Rollins School of Public Health who heads the study, Atlanta is the perfect laboratory in which to examine this discouraging relationship. Atlanta has the second highest number of vehicle miles driven per day in the nation, and prevailing wind patterns blow particulate emissions from coal-burning power plants straight toward the city. Using air-quality data developed by Georgia Tech scientists and others, the researchers are finding that pollution from motor vehicles appears to be related to bad cardiovascular outcomes in Atlanta. CDC researchers are joining the Emory epidemiologists and clinicians to look further, trying to determine if adverse birth outcomes also are related to air pollution. The study is a key contributor to the EPA's development of air-quality standards, says Tolbert, fitting right in with the researchers' goals of helping Atlantans breathe easier and be healthier.


Emory University Hospital and Emory Crawford Long Hospital are two of five hospitals in the Metro Atlanta Cardiology Consortium, which are collaborating to help save lives in cases of heart attack. With help from the American Heart Association, they are helping promote the "Dial, don’t drive" program, which helps educate consumers about recognizing symptoms of heart attack and calling for help rather than risk driving. The consortium is also collaborating on the TIME project (timely intervention for mycardial emergencies), co-led by Emory emergency medicine specialist Bryan McNally. TIME seeks to decrease the time between the onset of cardiac symptoms and hospital treatment via transmission of EKG information from the ambulance to one of the five hospitals, triggering activation of the hospital’s emergency catheterization team and rapid intervention on patient arrival.