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Air Pollution Affects Health In Asian Cities

BERNAMA, November 13, 2008 15:13 PM

BANGKOK, Nov 13 (Bernama) — A first-of-its-kind rigorous multi-city study on the effects of air pollution on health in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Wuhan has found significant mortality effects of acute exposure to urban air pollution.

Dr Frank Speizer of the Harvard Medical School and chairman of the Health Effects Institute’s (HEI) International Oversight Committee, said the study brought fresh local evidence that the substantially higher levels of air pollution in Asia were also associated with significant health effects.

“While a strong scientific literature exists in the developed world, documenting the adverse relationship between air pollution and health, differences between developed and developing world populations have sometimes limited the use of western science in developing countries,” he said at the Better Air Quality(BAQ) workshop here.

Over 900 participants are attending the BAQ, making it the largest gathering on air pollution and climate change in Asia.

The study on, “Public Health and Air Pollution in Asia (PAPA): A multicity study of Short-term Effects of Air Pollution on Mortality” was funded by HEI as a major project for Clean Air Initiative-Asia (CAI-Asia). It is the first integrated assessment across multiple Asian cities using modern analytic methods that allow direct comparison with western results.

The study’s finding of a 0.6 per cent increase in mortality for every 10 microgrammes (µg) of exposure to particulate air pollution is strikingly similar to comparable western results (which range from 0.4 per cent to 0.6 per cent) and provides increased confidence in the new Asian results.

The conference was told that with daily levels of Asian particulate air pollution routinely at levels above 100 micrograms (much higher than the World Health Organisation (WHO) Air Quality Guidelines), and very high population density in many Asian cities, these findings are a major cause for concern about the impact of air pollution on the health of Asian populations.

Sumi Mehta, senior scientist at HEI and co-author of an EHP editorial accompanying the studies, said that those with existing heart and lung diseases, the leading causes of death in Asia, were at increased risk of mortality due to air pollution.

“As Asian populations age, these risks can be expected to increase. In light of this recent science, Asian countries should consider whether their current standards, and current levels of air pollution are adequately protecting the public’s health,” Mehta said.

The study was part of a broader effort by the HEI to bring together the world’s data on the acute effects of air pollution by funding a series of related analyses in North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia.

“We are seeing the early stages of an emerging consistency in carefully coordinated studies conducted across regions that can provide policy makers with confidence that population effects are more similar than different.

“Similarly, pollution reduction measures can be expected to yield beneficial results no matter where they are implemented,” said Bob O’Keefe, Vice-President of HEI.

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