Air Pollution Level Considered Safe May Still Cause Early Death

Many studies have already identified the dangers posed by air pollution. One research, for instance, found that people who live in areas that are near high-traffic roads with high levels of air pollution have 12 percent higher risk for dementia. Researchers also found that air pollution may elevate mental illness risk in children.

Most of these studies though focus on high levels of air pollution but it appears that pollution levels that federal authorities deem safe still pose deadly risks.

Impact Of Low Levels Of Air Pollution On Mortality

Findings of a new study have revealed that air pollution levels considered safe and are allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency can cause premature death.

To assess the toll that air pollution takes on the lives of people in the United States, study researcher Francesca Dominici, from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and colleagues looked at the data from federal air monitoring stations and satellites as well as those from 60 million Medicare patients that were collected between the years 2000 and 2012, and analyzed the effect of low levels of air pollution on mortality.

The researchers found that about 12,000 lives could be saved annually if the level of fine particulate particulate matter across the country is reduced by just 1 microgram per cubic meter of air below the acceptable standards.

Fine particulate matter is made up of tiny specks of pollution that can lodge deep in the lungs and are associated with cardiovascular diseases.

The legal limit for fine particulate matter is 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air, but the researchers discovered unwanted health impacts of air pollution at levels that are far below the federal limit.

Researchers, for instance, found that seniors face a higher risk for premature death when they are exposed to as little as 5 micrograms per cubic meter, which is the lowest amount they measured in the study.

The researchers also found that when the concentration of particulate matter increased by 10 micrograms per cubic meter, the odds that a senior citizen would die during the course of the study period rose by 7.3 percent. The association is independent of other factors known to affect the risk of premature death in seniors such as smoking behavior, weight and income.

Dominici said that the findings provide compelling evidence that current safety standards are not safe enough.

Cleaner Air Can Save Lives

In an editorial that accompanied the study, New England Journal of Medicine editor-in-chief Jeffrey Drazen and colleagues cited the importance of aiming for cleaner air.

"Even with our current standards, if we cleaned up the air more, we could save lives," Drazen said. "Anything that we did that pushed things in the opposite direction — that gave us dirtier air — not only would be unpleasant, it's going to kill a lot of people."

Air pollution is the 13th highest risk factor for premature death in the United States. It is attributed for the death of 80,000 people in 2013. Worldwide, air pollution is the fourth leading cause of death.

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