Airborne Pollutants May Trigger Sarcoidosis, Study Suggests

Joana Fernandes, PhD avatar

by Joana Fernandes, PhD |

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Sarcoidosis and pollution

The prevalence of sarcoidosis may be associated with the presence of high levels of certain chemical elements in the environment, a new study suggests. More studies are warranted to confirm the possible link to pollution.

The study was published in the journal PLoS One in an article titled “Sarcoidosis in an Italian province – Prevalence and environmental risk factors.

Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that may be triggered by certain environmental factors, such as gas emissions, pollution, heavy metals, and fumes.

“The detection of airborne pollutants, or atmospheric monitoring, is one of the most difficult tasks in the field of environmental protection and human health,” the researchers wrote. “Despite stringent regulations to limit the concentration of the pollutants in soil, the amount of substances emitted into the atmosphere is still generally very high. Consequently, the air quality may be severely impaired in some areas.”

The aim of the study was to investigate the prevalence of sarcoidosis, the spatial distribution of patients, and potential environmental factors associated with this disease in Parma, Italy, a province marked by different sources of environmental pollution that may trigger the development of sarcoidosis and other respiratory diseases.

Researchers analyzed 223 patients, of whom 58.3 percent were women (mean age of 50.6 years) and 41.7 percent were men (mean age of 46.5 years). The analysis indicated that the mean prevalence of sarcoidosis in Parma from 2000 to 2013 was 49 per 100,000 individuals.

However, the disease’s prevalence among different regions within the province varied, suggesting that there may be certain environmental conditions in each region that act as triggering factors for sarcoidosis. For instance, hilly areas displayed a moderately larger prevalence than other regions.

Analysis of the chemical elements present in high-prevalence regions found that iron, aluminum, nickel, copper, lead, cadmium, zinc, selenium, arsenic and mercury may be associated with disease development. These elements may be present in the environment in high levels as a result of different industries and pollution.

However, “the number of selected pickup stations and metal samples … are not sufficient to establish a clear correlation between the onset of sarcoidosis and environmental risk factors,” the researchers wrote. “These results suggest a more in-depth study of the etiology of the disease, especially in areas with high number of sarcoidosis cases.”