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article imageNew study shows rising pollution causing people to die earlier

By Ken Hanly     Aug 22, 2019 in Environment
A new study finds that rising levels of pollution worldwide increase the chances that people will die early. Even in Australia which has had low levels of pollution historically an increase in sooty air has led to a sharp jump in the early death rate.
Even at low levels and short exposures more pollution causes earlier death
The method of the study
is partly described: "We evaluated the associations of inhalable particulate matter (PM) with an aerodynamic diameter of 10 μm or less (PM10) and fine PM with an aerodynamic diameter of 2.5 μm or less (PM2.5) with daily all-cause, cardiovascular, and respiratory mortality across multiple countries or regions. Daily data on mortality and air pollution were collected from 652 cities in 24 countries or regions. " The study was long term, over 30 years. This was the largest international study on the short-term impacts of air pollution on deaths to date. It was published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Other studies have well established that air pollution can damage people's health and make them ill. Air pollution has been linked to chronic heart and lung problems. What the new study shows is that even low doses of particulate matter can shorten life spans.To determine the deaths were actually early, researchers compared daily mortality rates over the study period. Compared to the daily death rates at the start, there was a rise in deaths on days when air pollution increased.
The study sets out its conclusions: "Our data show independent associations between short-term exposure to PM10 and PM2.5 and daily all-cause, cardiovascular, and respiratory mortality in more than 600 cities across the globe. These data reinforce the evidence of a link between mortality and PM concentration established in regional and local studies. (Funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and others.)"
Although the percentages look small numbers are still large
Mortality across the board rose just .44 percent when the amount of coarse particulate matter (PM) increased slightly. For fine particulate matter which can penetrate more deeply into the lungs when inhaled more deeply that rate increased .68 percent when the concentration was increased slightly. However, less than one percent of the global population still is millions of people.
Eric Lavigne a co-author of the study, a professor at the University of Ottawa, and epidemiologist for the Canadian Health Agency said: “If we’re looking at a population of one million people in a city, well 1 percent is significant and it can affect a lot of people.”
There is much room for improvement in tackling pollution
Even countries that have measures to keep air pollution in place have seen high increases in death rates as pollution has increased. John Balmes a spokesperson for the American Lung Association who teaches at the University of California in San Francisco and Berkeley said: “We can still have public health impact by getting cleaner than we already are." He added “a relatively small risk that affects the entire population can be just as important in terms of public health as a stronger risk factor that not everybody experiences [like smoking].”
The US Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) reassessing national air quality standards
Studies such as this one would suggest that public health is a good reason to limit air pollution. However, this paper and others like it may not be considered as part of the EPA re-evaluation of standards. The Trump administration has pushed to limit the type of evidence the EPA can use to those falling within a particular scientific approach within which the new study does not fall. Balmes has said that excluding a study such as this would set a dangerous precedent. The EPA did not respond to an email requesting comment on the study.
More about Epa, pollution levels, particle pollution, Environment
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