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Reduced Air Pollution Adds Years To Your Life

eFluxMedia By Anna Boyd – 12:58, January 22nd 2009

Pollution has always been thought to reduce survival due to its noxious effects on people’s health. Previous studies have linked pollution to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, lung cancer, asthma and other serious diseases.

No further than last year, a study published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association revealed that pollution harms people with coronary artery disease, causing worrying changes on the heart traces of patients recovering from heart attacks.

Another study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, which focused on air pollution’s effects on clotting in the veins found that exposure to air pollution from traffic fumes raises risks of potentially fatal clots in the leg; it alters the blood’s coagulation properties and heightens the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). A study published in 2007 in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association found that breathing fine particle pollution during warm weather months can increase stroke risk.

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution accounts for three million deaths worldwide every year. Cars, trucks and industrial plants are the greatest source of air pollution emissions that increases the rates of heart attacks.

Other studies found that when particulates are cut even for a short period of time, death rates fall. As an example, when Hong Kong imposed reductions in sulfur dioxide, or when Dublin imposed a coal ban, they saw immediate reductions in death rates from cardiovascular diseases.

Now, researchers at Brigham Young University and the Harvard School of Public Health come to underline the idea that pollution really increases someone’s risk of dying. Their study was published in the January 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. According to the findings, the average of life expectancy in 51 US cities increased nearly three years over recent decades due to steps taken to reduce air pollution.

“We find that we’re getting a substantial return on our investments in improving our air quality. Not only we are getting cleaner air that improves our environment, but it is improving our public health,” C. Arden Pope III, PhD, a BYU epidemiologist and lead author of the study, said.

For the study, he and his colleagues plotted pollution data for 1979-1983 against 1978-1982 life expectancies for 217 counties within 51 metropolitan areas around the country. Then, they compared 1999-2000 pollution data with 1997-2001 life expectancies. The researchers looked at how air pollution influenced life expectancy in both time periods.

Pollution levels were about 21 micrograms per cubic meter in the early 80s and had fallen to an average of 14 micrograms per cubic meter by 1999-2000.

The study found that due to this decrease in air pollution, average US life expectancy increased by about three years over the period of the study and cleaner air was responsible for as much as 15 percent of the increase in some metropolitan areas.

Commenting on the findings, Daniel Krewski of the University of Ottawa said the study “provides direct confirmation of the population health benefits of mitigating air pollution and greatly strengthens the foundation of the argument for air-quality management.”

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