Air pollution linked to deaths of 30,000 people in the U.S.

Photo (c) Konoplytska - Getty Images

Study findings suggest that current air pollution standards are not going far enough

Researchers from Imperial College in London recently found that poor air quality and an overall increase in air pollution could lead Americans to an early death. 

In evaluating levels of fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, the researchers determined that the emissions are high enough to increase the risk of mortality for rou

“U.S. PM2.5 concentrations are generally lower than those in many European cities -- which suggests there may also be [a] substantial number of deaths in Europe associated with air pollution” said researcher Majid Ezzati. 

The push for clean air

Using a combination of satellite images and data from over 750 air quality monitoring systems that spanned the country, the researchers were able to get statistical values of PM2.5 and see how those levels have been affecting consumers’ health. 

In looking at death records between 1999 and 2015, they were able to determine how many of those deaths were related to air pollution. They then estimated how PM2.5 levels could affect those numbers. 

One positive finding from the study was that PM2.5 levels are actually on the decline, and have been for the past two decades. However, the current level of emissions were still found to be dangerous for consumers’ overall health, and could be the cause of death for nearly 30,000 people. 

To put the numbers into perspective, the United States has set their annual PM2.5 standard at 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air (ug/m3). This study has recorded PM2.5 levels that were significantly under that benchmark for the most part, with totals ranging from 2.8 ug/m3 to 13.2 ug/m3. However, even on the lower end, these emissions were associated with health hazards. 

The researchers found that breathing in PM2.5 even at considerably lower levels than what the U.S. deems dangerous can lead to a slew of cardiovascular issues, including heart disease, lung disease, heart attack, or asthma. The researchers hope lawmakers see the significance behind these results so that they can work to lower the standard PM2.5 levels. 

“We’ve known for some time that these particles can be deadly,” said Ezzati. “This study suggests even at seemingly low concentrations -- mostly below current limits -- they still cause tens of thousands of deaths. Lowering the PM2.5 standard below the current level is likely to improve the health of the U.S. nation, and reduce the health inequality.”

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