Manuscript has been published in Epidemiology, Vol. 15:57-62 (2004).


Multi-site time series studies of air pollution and mortality and morbidity have figured prominently in the literature as comprehensive approaches for estimating acute effects of air pollution on health. Hierarchical models are generally used to combine site-specific information and estimate pooled air pollution effects taking into account both within-site statistical uncertainty, and across-site heterogeneity.

Within a site, characteristics of time series data of air pollution and health (small pollution effects, missing data, highly correlated predictors, non linear confounding etc.) make modelling all sources of uncertainty challenging. One potential consequence is underestimation of the statistical variance of the site-specific effects to be combined.

In this paper we investigate the impact of variance underestimation on the pooled relative rate estimate. We focus on two-stage normal-normal hierarchical models and on under- estimation of the statistical variance at the first stage. By mathematical considerations and simulation studies, we found that variance underestimation does not affect the pooled estimate substantially. However, some sensitivity of the pooled estimate to variance underestimation is observed when the number of sites is small and underestimation is severe. These simulation results are applicable to any two-stage normal-normal hierarchical model for combining information of site-specific results, and they can be easily extended to more general hierarchical formulations.

We also examined the impact of variance underestimation on the national average relative rate estimate from the National Morbidity Mortality Air Pollution Study and we found that variance underestimation as much as 40% has little effect on the national average.


Longitudinal Data Analysis and Time Series | Statistical Models