Air Pollution: Losing Lives Even More than All Motor Vehicle Fatalities

Air Pollution: Losing Lives Even More than All Motor Vehicle Fatalities

Breathing is something we do unconsciously, regularly and non-stop. When something interferes with that process, our bodies react. When you have a slight cold or an allergy, having a stuffy nose is annoying and makes it difficult to sleep and smell.


Imagine having to face that challenge daily. The Lung Association of New Brunswick deals with breathing and air quality issues on every level, from the individual with respiratory health problems to smokers and air quality which impacts our ability to breathe fresh, clean air.

The quality of air in these environments has a direct impact on breathing. People with allergies and asthma are particularly impacted by poor indoor air quality. Poor air quality can come from both natural and artificial pollutants.

"We owe it to ourselves and our children to make our cities livable. That means, at a minimum, the air we breathe should not make us sick," said New York State Environment Commissioner Pete Grannis.

"Emissions from smoking and idling trucks and buses are a problem - especially in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by pollution. DEC is committed to dealing with this issue," said Grannis. "We intend to take aggressive enforcement actions wherever we find hot spots of smoking and idling trucks and buses."

Lowering air pollution in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley would save more lives annually than ending all motor vehicle fatalities in the two regions, according to a new study.

The study, which examined the costs of air pollution in two areas with the worst levels in the country, also said meeting federal ozone and fine particulate standards could save $28 billion annually in health care costs, school absences, missed work and lost income potential from premature deaths.

The price tag amounts to $1,600 annually per person in the San Joaquin Valley and $1,250 in the South Coast Air Basin.

Researchers at California State University-Fullerton sought to assess the potential economic benefits that could be achieved by reducing air pollution to levels within federal standards.

"For decades there has been a tug of war over what to do about air pollution," said Jane Hall, lead author of the study at Cal State Fullerton. "We are paying now for not having done enough."

To illustrate its point, the study noted that the California Highway Patrol recorded 2,521 vehicular deaths in the San Joaquin Valley and South Coast Air Basin in 2006, compared to 3,812 deaths attributed to respiratory illness caused by particulate pollution.

Studies have indicated a relationship between ozone and particulate pollution and asthma and other respiratory problems, including chronic bronchitis. They also have connected particulate pollution with an increase in cardiovascular problems.

Hall and colleague Victor Brajer analyzed ozone and fine particulate concentrations across the two basins in 5-by-5 kilometer grids from 2005 through 2007. The researchers applied those numbers to the health affects they are known to cause, then assigned peer-reviewed economic values to each illness or death that could result.

"It may be tempting to think California can't afford to clean up, but in fact dirty air is like a $28 billion lead balloon on our economy," Hall said.

The findings were released Wednesday as the California Air Resources Board considers controversial new regulations to reduce diesel truck emissions, a move that could cost 170,000 business owners $5.5 billion. According to a board staff report, the savings in health care costs would be $68 billion by 2020 if the regulations were adopted next month.

The Cal State Fullerton study says that particulate pollution levels must fall by 50 percent in both regions for health and economic benefits to occur, something they acknowledged would be "very difficult to achieve."

If pollution levels were to improve to federal standards, the study says residents of the two air basins would suffer 3,860 fewer premature deaths, 3,780 fewer nonfatal heart attacks and would miss 470,000 fewer days of work annually. School children would miss more than 1.2 million fewer days of school, a savings of $112 million in caregiver costs. There also would be more than 2 million fewer cases of upper respiratory problems.

"As a society we make decisions to spend money on things such as railroad crossings or air traffic control — things that improve safety," Brajer said. "There are a lot of ways society spends money to make things safer, and that's what we're trying to get at."

More Studies:

Scientific studies have linked the breathing of particulates with aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, decreased lung function and premature death in people with heart and lung disease.

American Heart Association Research:

High concentrations of fine particulate matter air pollution may result in adverse cardiovascular responses, according to research presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions held Nov. 8 to 12 in New Orleans.

"Both adverse cardiovascular responses may be key mechanisms whereby present-day ambient fine-particle levels can trigger acute cardiovascular events," the authors conclude. "These findings also suggest that the sources and characteristics of air pollutants may be important determinants of the health responses."

"The challenge of air pollution is that what people are exposed to and what most studies talk about . . . rarely represent the micro environment of what's in your house," explained American Heart Association spokesman Dr. Russell Luepker, Mayo professor of epidemiology and community health at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. "People have been working to try to get individual monitors that people can wear, so they can know what people are really inhaling as opposed to what they might be inhaling a mile away from where the monitor was."

Previous research has drawn an association between fine particulate matter air pollution and an increased risk for cardiovascular events.

It's unclear however, if daily changes in particulate matter might affect the heart and if ambient (outside) sources of air pollution have different effects than non-ambient (inside) sources.

University of Michigan research:

Whether you're inside or out, air pollution can have a profound effect on your blood vessels. University of Michigan researchers wanted to find out how much exposure causes negative effects on the heart.

Sixty-five participants wore pollution monitoring equipment for ten days. Scientists found two days of slightly elevated pollution exposure was enough to narrow blood vessels 18 percent and raise blood pressure two points.

Harvard Medical School and chairman of the Health Effects Institute's (HEI) Research

A first-of-its-kind rigorous multi-city study on the effects of air pollution on health in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Wuhan has found significant mortality effects of acute exposure to urban air pollution.

Dr Frank Speizer of the Harvard Medical School and chairman of the Health Effects Institute's (HEI) International Oversight Committee, said the study brought fresh local evidence that the substantially higher levels of air pollution in Asia were also associated with significant health effects.

Sumi Mehta, senior scientist at HEI and co-author of an EHP editorial accompanying the studies, said that those with existing heart and lung diseases, the leading causes of death in Asia, were at increased risk of mortality due to air pollution.

American Journal of Cardiology:

A study published Nov. 1 in the American Journal of Cardiology shows Utah's air pollution leads to a 13 percent increase in hospitalizations, likely because the microscopic soot and dust released by automobiles and industry prevents the heart from maintaining adequate circulation.

"That ought to be a concern to anybody with heart failure. It also should be of concern to all of us," said C. Arden Pope, a study author whose prior work has linked pollution increases to lung illnesses and increases in heart attacks. Heart failure occurs when the heart can't pump enough blood, and can be caused by heart attacks.

The bad news is that we do have episodes where our air quality is quite poor. . . . We have made some success. It's not clean enough." The 56-year-old heart-failure patient takes about 40 pills a day for his weak and damaged heart muscle and an inherited disorder that puts him at risk for sudden death. He estimates he stayed indoors five to seven times last winter during inversions.

Acknowledgment:

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