Exposure to air pollution increases an individual’s risk of early death from cardiovascular and respiratory disease, according to the findings of new research.
In a study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine, Chinese researchers warn that even short-term exposure to air pollution, particulate matter specifically, increased risk of early death from all causes.
Researchers focused on associations of inhalable particulate matter PM 10 and fine particulate matter PM 2.5. They used daily data on early death and data on air pollution collected from 652 cities in 24 countries.
PM 2.5 is made up of ultra-fine particles of soot, dirt, and dust smaller than 2.5 micrometers, or 30 times smaller than one human hair. It is easily inhaled by humans, lodges into the lungs, and can enter the blood stream causing cardiovascular disease. Particulate matter leads to the deaths of 30,000 Americans every year.
An increase of 10 mg per cubic meter of PM 10 concentrations was associated with a 44% increased risk of death from any cause, 36% increased risk of cardiovascular death, and 47% increased risk of daily respiratory death. Similarly, 10 mg per cubic meter increases in PM 2.5 was linked to a 68% increase in all cause death, 55% increased risk of cardiovascular death, and 74% increased risk of daily respiratory death.
Associations between toxic air pollution and death were stronger in locations with lower annual average PM concentrations and higher annual average temperatures. In fact, even at moderate levels air pollution can cause lung damage similar to that seen in smokers.
The research suggested a link between short term exposure to both PM 2.5 and PM 10 and an increased risk of death in more than 600 cities around the world. There is no threshold between particulate matter and death seen in the results, meaning even low levels may increase the risk of early death.
Other studies have echoed the findings of the new research, indicating air pollution reduces life expectancy of people by up to two years depending on where they live and their exposure to particulate matter. Other researchers have noted that working to reduce air pollution could save 153 million people globally.