Polluted Air and Early Death May Be Related

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The newly released 2020 “State of the Air” report by American Lung Association pointed out that the air condition in the US is declining. About 150 million people (almost half of American’s population) are breathing polluted air.


Breathing polluted air can be harmful to people’s health. Exposure to polluted air in a short term may trigger cardiovascular diseases, asthma, etc. But long-term exposure to air pollution is an essential cause of early death among older people, according to a new study.



The new study from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, published in the journal Science Advances, provided the most comprehensive evidence of a causal link between fine particulate (PM2.5) air pollution and premature death.


PM2.5 are tiny particles in the air, smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter and 30 times smaller in diameter than a human hair. It formed because of burning fuel, chemical reactions, and some natural processes.




The most comprehensive study


Researchers gathered data from 68.5 million Medicare enrollees, which means 97% of Americans over 65 years old, and matched their zip codes and air pollution data across the country. They also considered factors as body mass index, smoking, ethnicity, income, and education background. They intended to study whether polluted air can affect life length.


The result showed a causal link between exposure to PM2.5 and mortality among participants, which appeared a same conclusion with previous studies. It was consistent across six different types of analyses used by researchers in this study.



Lower standards of PM 2.5 will save lives


“Current U.S. standards for PM2.5 concentrations are not protective enough and should be lowered to ensure that vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, are safe," said doctoral student Xiao Wu, a co-author of the study.


The study pointed out that 143,257 would be saved in one decade if the US lowered its annual PM2.5 standard from 15~12 μg/m3 to 10 μg/m3.



Different voices from EPA and others


Scientists sent their latest findings and suggestions to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), but they did not get a positive feedback. The EPA decided to maintain current national air quality standards.


Bill Magavern, policy director for the Coalition for Clean Air, blamed that “the Trump administration has weakened clean air standards and ignored scientific evidence for stronger particulate matter safeguards.”


An EPA spokesperson responded: "EPA methods for determining air quality, which are based on the Clean Air Act and the latest science, show continued improvements in measures of U.S. air quality in recent years and into the future.”


Although scientists give their suggestions, it seems that there are more factors that need to be considered besides science. But for most people, breathing fresh air is always essential.

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