Health effects of particulate matter air pollution in underground railway systems - a critical review of the evidence.Part Fibre Toxicol. 2019 03 06; 16(1):12.PF
Exposure to ambient airborne particulate matter is a major risk factor for mortality and morbidity, associated with asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, myocardial infarction, and stroke, and more recently type 2 diabetes, dementia and loss of cognitive function. Less is understood about differential effects of particulate matter from different sources. Underground railways are used by millions of people on a daily basis in many cities. Poor air exchange with the outside environment means that underground railways often have an unusually high concentration of airborne particulate matter, while a high degree of railway-associated mechanical activity produces particulate matter which is physicochemically highly distinct from ambient particulate matter. The implications of this for the health of exposed commuters and employees is unclear.
A literature search found 27 publications directly assessing the potential health effects of underground particulate matter, including in vivo exposure studies, in vitro toxicology studies, and studies of particulate matter which might be similar to that found in underground railways. The methodology, findings, and conclusions of these studies were reviewed in depth, along with further publications directly relevant to the initial search results. In vitro studies suggest that underground particulate matter may be more toxic than exposure to ambient/urban particulate matter, especially in terms of endpoints related to reactive oxygen species generation and oxidative stress. This appears to be predominantly a result of the metal-rich nature of underground particulate matter, which is suggestive of increased health risks. However, while there are measureable effects on a variety of endpoints following exposure in vivo, there is a lack of evidence for these effects being clinically significant as may be implied by the in vitro evidence.
There is little direct evidence that underground railway particulate matter exposure is more harmful than ambient particulate matter exposure. This may be due to disparities between in vivo exposures and in vitro models, and differences in exposure doses, as well as statistical under powering of in vivo studies of chronic exposure. Future research should focus on outcomes of chronic in vivo exposure, as well as further work to understand mechanisms and potential biomarkers of exposure.