Deaths Increase as Air Pollution Levels Rise
WebMD News Archive
Then they matched the pollution data with death rates in those
cities during the following 24-hour period, excluding all deaths caused by
accidents, suicide and homicides. What the researchers found was that for every
increase in PM10 levels, there was a 0.5% increase in the number of deaths. The
largest increase was seen in deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory
diseases. They also noted a small increase in deaths that they could attribute
to a rise in ozone level.
Among the locations studied were six areas in California: Los
Angeles, Oakland, Santa Ana-Anaheim, San Bernardino, San Diego, and San Jose,
and three in Texas: Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. In addition,
Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Miami, Minneapolis, New York,
Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, and Seattle were included. All told the
study encompassed more than 50 million people.
"What this provides is a national perspective on air
pollution and its health effects," Samet tells WebMD. "Those who are
most at risk are ... likely to be frail and have advanced heart and lung
disease. The surprise in this data, and I do think I have been relatively
conservative in interpreting the data, is that while we have gotten rid of our
smoke stacks, we are still seeing health effects. We are taking the science and
putting it together in a way that policy makers can pay attention to and it is
important for them to pay attention to this."
Samet adds that the problem of particulate pollution is more
pressing than global warming. "The contrast with global warming is we will
always be deciding what to do based on models and projections and schedules
that really exceed our lifespan. Here it is more immediate and we have evidence
"This is an important study because of the extreme
thoroughness of their examination and their exhaustive analysis. It should
convince some of the doubters," says Morton Lippmann, PhD, a professor of
environmental medicine at New York University School of Medicine and a member
of an EPA advisory committee on particulates.
As a cause of death, particulate pollution "is not in the
same category as smoking and traffic accidents but it is bigger than radon in
terms of [deaths]. It is analogous to, and larger than, environmental
smoke," Lippmann says.