Date of Award

Fall 2019

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Environmental Health Sciences

First Advisor

Geoffrey I. Scott

Second Advisor

Dwayne E. Porter


Polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a group of chemically-related compounds with a well-established body of evidence of adverse human health impacts. Additionally, there is a growing area of research on the health outcomes following PAH exposure via air pollution, specifically with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and lung cancer. The purpose of this dissertation was to investigate the strength of associations among PAHs, COPD, and lung cancer from ambient (outdoor) air pollution. The first objective was to determine if there is a potential environmental link among PAHs, COPD, and lung cancer occurrence among nonsmokers using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The second objective was to test the hypothesis that a significant association exists among PAHs, COPD, and lung cancer deaths in South Carolina (SC) using the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) models developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The third and final objective of this research was to utilize the models developed in the previous objective and apply it to a large metropolitan context to determine if the same or similar associations with COPD and lung cancer deaths were observed. New York City was selected as the jurisdiction for this section of the research due to its context of a probable interface with a dense population and a variety of known air pollution sources i.e. the port of NY/NJ.

For the first objective, PAHs were not statistically significant (p=0.4828) in their association with COPD occurrence among non-smoking respondents after adjusting for known confounders i.e. age, secondhand smoke exposure, former smokers, BMI, etc. The results investigating the strength of association between PAHs and lung cancer among nonsmokers were unreliable due to the small sample size of lung cancer respondents (n=37) in the NHANES dataset and are not included.

For the second objective, PAHs were significantly associated with COPD deaths (p=0.0094 to p

The results for the third objective for New York City were mixed. For both COPD and lung cancer death models, there were statistically significant associations with PAHs at the census tract level (p

In conclusion, taking into account each of the confounders included in the analysis for the COPD death model in SC specifically, there are implications for air pollution remediation across the state. Additional study is warranted investigating a morbidity model using data such as hospitalizations from acute exacerbations of COPD (as well as lung cancer or other respiratory-related illnesses, i.e. asthma) and investigating their associations with PAHs at the census tract level. A death model includes a longer period of time between dose and response which could be mitigated with a morbidity model. Next, other biomarkers for air pollutants, i.e. particulate matter