Air Pollution Is Dangerous, but Deadly?
Long-Term Ozone Exposure Boosts Risk for Lung-Related Death, Study Shows
Cities With the Highest Ozone Levels
The risk of dying from respiratory causes rises up to 4% for every 10
parts-per-billion increase in exposure to ozone, the study says. Jerrett
tells WebMD that over the 18-year study period, Riverside, Calif., had the
highest daily average maximum concentration at 104 parts per billion, which
“corresponded to a 50% increased risk of dying from lung disease compared to no
exposure” to ozone.
He adds that in general, cities in the Northeast had lower ozone than
California. New York had a 25% increased risk of lung-related death and
Washington, D.C., came in at 27%, compared to 43% in Los Angeles.
The lowest ozone concentrations were recorded in San Francisco.
Charlotte-Gastonia, N.C., Chattanooga, Tenn., Raleigh, N.C., and Richmond,
Va., were among the most ozone-rich areas in the South.
Limiting Exposure to Ozone Air Pollution
A clear message to the public, Jerrett says, is that exercise during the
sunniest time of the day should be avoided by people who live in warm climates.
He also says it’s smart to keep windows closed when ozone levels are highest,
and it’s just not good to spend more time outside than indoors when levels of
the gas are high.
Cherry Wongtrakool, MD, a pulmonologist and professor at the Emory
University School of Medicine in Atlanta, says “you need particulates to have
ozone, which depends on sunlight.”
Plus, ozone is more seasonal, occurring at highest levels from spring to
fall. She recommends commuting less and exercising, but not around busy streets
in warm weather.
“Thirty percent is a very alarming number,” she says.
As for governments, Jerrett says, they should take steps to reduce traffic
congestion, perhaps by offering financial incentives to carpoolers, increasing
high-occupancy lanes, encouraging the use of hybrid cars and maybe even by
discouraging driving with higher gas taxes.
Jerrett says studies have shown that high ozone levels can cause problems
quickly, and that reports on ozone levels, which can often be found in
newspapers or on the Internet, should be consulted by people considering
Janice E. Nolen of the American Lung Association says the study suggests
that “even low-ozone days kill people early” and that “controls have to be put
on cars and power plants” to deal with this.
Ozone, she says, “is a huge problem around the country. Your lungs are
getting repeatedly assaulted.”
But the problem isn’t insurmountable, Jerrett says, noting a recent New
England Journal of Medicine study reporting that the
average life expectancy in 51 U.S. cities had increased nearly three years
between 1980 and 2000, with up to five months of that a result of decreased air