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The urban atmosphere and its effects

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    The urban atmosphere and its effects. Edited by: brimblecombe p, maynard r. (Pp 374; .) 2001. London: Imperial College Press. ISBN 186094 064 1

    For graduate students trying to move beyond a basic understanding of the effects of air pollution on our health and urban environment, a book such as this is greatly needed. The volume of literature on that subject and its level of complexity is huge, and the gulf between it and basic texts is growing rapidly. This book seeks to bridge that gulf by tackling the key issues in the field of air pollution research.

    A collection of work by people with expertise in each of the chosen fields, this book succeeds to varying degrees with its aim, with some chapters succeeding to a greater extent than others. Statistical issues in analysis of air pollution time series are complex indeed, and Hurley succeeds in demonstrating these complexities without making them seem intimidating. Maynard also provides a very clear introduction to the effects of non-biological particles on health, which gives readers a clear understanding of causality in epidemiological studies, and introduces the issues surrounding the key question as to who dies during episodes of particulate pollution. Cancer and air pollution is another difficult area dealt with skilfully by Rushton. People without an epidemiological background are introduced to the concepts of epidemiological studies, and confounding in particular. Other highlights are the lucid discussions of mechanisms of toxicity of gaseous pollutants, and an introduction to the concept of risk measurement and management at the population level.

    Other contributions did not seem to work so well. The introductory chapter would not give a reader new to the field a clear picture as to how composition, sources, and levels of air pollution have changed, and the discussion of alternative fuels was dominated by discussion of regulations in the United States and took a long time to get down to business. The final chapter about information resources gives a basic introduction on where to find information, but essentially is a list of where to find information onany subject—an advanced reader would possibly be better served by introducing key elements against which studies in this field can be critically appraised.

    Inevitably, there are some terms that are not explained by the authors, which would make some sections difficult to understand for people from a different scientific background to that of the authors. Addition of a glossary would have helped. The ordering of the chapters seemed at times to be illogical but good editing means that all sections are relatively easy to read and follow. The print quality of some of the figures is poor, which is a shame, because there are relatively few of them.

    Overall, this book succeeds at a very difficult task. A graduate student will leave this little volume neither overwhelmed by the complexity of the subject, nor seeing as simple the task of unravelling the vast and growing body of knowledge in the field of air pollution research. In that, the book succeeds, and I would recommend it to my research students as a way into this fascinating subject.

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