New Study Finds Pollution Kills — Even With Stricter Air Quality Standards

In a new study released by George Thurston of New York University’s Langone Medical Center that surveyed more than 500,000 Americans, shows that as air pollution levels rise in the areas where they live, rates of death rise, specially deaths from heart disease.

Diesel Particle
An example of particulate matter is a diesel particle, which have carbon at their core with toxics and carcinogenic substances attached to their surfaces.

Even with new, stricter standards on emissions, their data adds to a growing body of evidence that particulate matter is really harmful to health, increasing overall mortality, mostly deaths from cardiovascular disease, as well as deaths from respiratory disease in nonsmokers.  Specifically the study looked at air pollutants called particulates, in this case tiny particles 2.5 micrometers or less (sometimes referred to as PM 2.5). These particles can settle into the lungs, pass from there into the blood stream, and are not coughed up. They also often contain dangerous heavy metals such as mercury or arsenic.

The team used a survey run by the National Institutes of Health and AARP, looking at more than 500,000 volunteers aged 50 to 71 in six states and two large cities, Atlanta and Detroit. They used Environmental Protection Agency data that breaks down exposure to air pollution by county or city.

Every extra 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air raised the risk of heart death between 2000 and 2009 by 10 percent, they report in the government journal Environmental Health Perspectives. And that increase in air pollution raised the overall risk of death over the decade by 3 percent.

People who are poorer and less educated often live in more polluted areas and also have higher death rates, so the researchers accounted for that, along with age, race, marital status, smoking, weight and alcohol use. The effects held even when those other factors were considered.

This study should be of particular interest to those living in areas that are in non or near non-attainment for Federal air quality standards.

While Houston is currently in attainment for PM 2.5 standards , this new study would indicate that that is no guarantee that Houston residents are not at risk for increased health impacts.