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Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15(9), 2029; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph15092029

The Oakville Oil Refinery Closure and Its Influence on Local Hospitalizations: A Natural Experiment on Sulfur Dioxide

1
Environmental Health Science and Research Bureau, Health Canada, Ottawa, ON K1A 0K9, Canada
2
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON K1H 8L6, Canada
3
School of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON K1G 5Z3, Canada
4
Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON K7L 3N6, Canada
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 31 July 2018 / Revised: 11 September 2018 / Accepted: 11 September 2018 / Published: 17 September 2018
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Abstract

Background: An oil refinery in Oakville, Canada, closed over 2004–2005, providing an opportunity for a natural experiment to examine the effects on oil refinery-related air pollution and residents’ health. Methods: Environmental and health data were collected for the 16 years around the refinery closure. Toronto (2.5 million persons) and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA, 6.3 million persons) were used as control and reference populations, respectively, for Oakville (160,000 persons). We compared sulfur dioxide and age- and season-standardized hospitalizations, considering potential factors such as changes in demographics, socio-economics, drug prescriptions, and environmental variables. Results: The closure of the refinery eliminated 6000 tons/year of SO2 emissions, with an observed reduction of 20% in wind direction-adjusted ambient concentrations in Oakville. After accounting for trends, a decrease in cold-season peak-centered respiratory hospitalizations was observed for Oakville (reduction of 2.2 cases/1000 persons per year, p = 0.0006 ) but not in Toronto (p = 0.856) and the GTA (p = 0.334). The reduction of respiratory hospitalizations in Oakville post closure appeared to have no observed link to known confounders or effect modifiers. Conclusion: The refinery closure allowed an assessment of the change in community health. This natural experiment provides evidence that a reduction in emissions was associated with improvements in population health. This study design addresses the impact of a removed source of air pollution. View Full-Text
Keywords: natural experiment; air pollution; sulfur dioxide; respiratory hospitalization; standardized hospitalization ratio natural experiment; air pollution; sulfur dioxide; respiratory hospitalization; standardized hospitalization ratio
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This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Burr, W.S.; Dales, R.; Liu, L.; Stieb, D.; Smith-Doiron, M.; Jovic, B.; Kauri, L.M.; Shin, H.H. The Oakville Oil Refinery Closure and Its Influence on Local Hospitalizations: A Natural Experiment on Sulfur Dioxide. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2018, 15, 2029.

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