Friday, August 26, 2016

Tougher U.S. Air Standards Would Be Lifesavers

Curbing two types of air pollution could save thousands of lives in the United States every year, a new study contends.

Research by the American Thoracic Society (ATS) says that reduced airborne levels of ozone and fine particles would also prevent many serious illnesses and significantly reduce missed days of school and work. The ATS recommendations are lower than current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Specifically, the ATS said 9,320 lives could be saved each year with an eight-hour ozone standard of 0.060 parts per million, rather than the EPA’s 0.070 standard. So would a fine particle annual standard of 11 mcg/cubic meter, rather than the EPA’s 12 mcg standard.

Stricter standards would reduce serious health events such as heart attacks, hospital admissions and emergency room visits by 21,400 a year, the ATS said. The reduced pollution would also cut 19.3 million days that severe breathing problems leave Americans unable to go to work, school or be physically active each year, the group said.

The study was published online in the August issue of the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

“While there is information available about counties in the United States that exceed EPA air pollution standards, there has not been a similar source of information about how that air pollution actually affects the health of people living in those areas,” study lead author Kevin Cromar said in a society news release.

The pollution levels recommended by the ATS are based on national and international animal and human studies, the group said.

According to the ATS, the 10 urban areas that would benefit most from lower levels of these air pollutants are: Los Angeles, Riverside, CA, New York City, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Fresno, CA, Bakersfield, CA, Houston, Cleveland, and Cincinnati.

Cromar is director of the Air Quality Program at the Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University. He is also an assistant professor of population health and environmental medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.

My Take:
Eighty percent of the U.S. population lives in an urban setting. The vast majority of the population is exposed to these pollutants constantly. Please note these statistics only represent two types of air pollution – ozone and fine particles.

Air pollution occurs in many forms but can generally be thought of as gaseous and particulate contaminates that are present in the earth’s atmosphere. In addition to ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds (VOC), hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen fluoride, and various gaseous forms of metals are all in the gaseous pollutant category. These all come from fossil fuel fired power plants, smelters, industrial boilers, petroleum refineries, and manufacturing facilities.

Particulates can be large, small or fine. Large particles include substances such as dust, asbestos fibers, and lead. The fine particles, including sulfates and nitrates come from power plants, smelters, mining operations, and automobiles.

The Bottom Line:
Tightening the pollution standards would be a step in the right direction for American health. However, there is a much broader range of pollutants that need to be addressed. Most of these pollutants come from the dirty ways in which we produce energy and manufacture products. We must seek alternative energy sources like solar, wind and water to meet our future energy needs and protect our health and that of the planet.

August 10, 2016 National Institutes of Health

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