Air Pollution Kills 20,000 Older Americans Every Year: Study

Air pollution causes roughly 20,000 deaths each year, even at levels generally considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to the findings of new research. 

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on December 26, researchers indicate that older Americans face a higher risk of death due to air pollution, even at low levels.

The case-crossover study looked at data on more than 22 million deaths from the entire Medicare population from January 1, 2000 to December 31, 2012, residing in roughly 40,000 zip codes. It also included nationwide air pollution data.

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Researchers estimated the 24-hour air pollution exposure in people who died between 2000 and 2012.

They concluded daily increases in air pollution, even at levels considered safe, are linked to increased deaths among the elderly and other populations.

Similar research published earlier this year indicated exposure to air pollution, even at “safe” levels, increased a person’s risk of premature death.

For every 10-μg/m3daily increase in fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) researchers noted a 1% increase in deaths.

Similarly, increases of 10-parts-per-billion daily in ozone exposures, a primary component of smog, were associated with 0.5% increase in deaths.

That data translates to an extra 20,000 deaths per year due to air pollution. This is more deaths per year than is caused by AIDS. However, researchers emphasize, there is a cure for air pollution, but not AIDS.

A report released in 2016 by the World Health Organization indicated more than 90% of the world’s population lives in areas with poor air quality, exposing them to serious health effects.

Simple measures, like adding scrubbers to coal-burning power plants and reducing nitrogen oxide emissions, which is a primary producer of ozone, can help reduce deaths from air pollution. A decrease of 10 parts per billion in ozone would save 10,000 lives per year the researchers estimated.

The findings come just days after UNICEF published a report warning that air pollution causes long term effects to children’s brains, affecting development and learning.

The new data indicated low income populations, African Americans, women and people over the age of 70 have the greatest risk, even at air pollution levels below the EPA safe standard.

Data published in 2014 indicated minority neighborhoods are more likely to be located in the path of harmful air pollution, placing them at higher exposure to harmful side effects.

Another study published in 2016 indicated air pollution increases a person’s risk of suffering degenerative diseases later in life, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The EPA is required to reexamine National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) every 5 years. Researchers said the findings of the new study should prompt the EPA to reevaluate the standards.


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