Air pollution linked to increased risk of death

The risk to health from chemical particles in the air remained the same regardless of location or nearly any social or economic circumstance.
By Stephen Feller  |  Sept. 15, 2015 at 9:44 AM
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NEW YORK, Sept. 15 (UPI) -- Chemical particles in the air increase the overall risk of death, as well as increasing the risk of death from heart disease and respiratory disease, researchers found in a large study.

People living in states with the strictest regulations on pollution were just as susceptible to the effects of particulate matter as those with worse pollution, showing the overall effects of the chemicals themselves.

Most variables, including age, gender, and whether or not participants smoked did not make a difference -- particles in the air pose a real threat to health. The particles are more significant to health because of they are so small that they get into the bloodstream before they can be sneezed out like sand or dust.

"Our data add 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," said George Thurston, a professor of population health and environmental medicine at NYU Langone, in a press release. "Our study is particularly notable because all the data used in our analysis comes from government- and independently held sources."

The researchers analyzed data on 517,041 men and women collected between 2000 and 2009 as part of a study on diet and health conducted by the National Institutes of Health and AARP. The participants in the study were between the ages of 51 and 70 and live in California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and the metropolitan areas of Atlanta and Detroit.

The data showed that even small increases in the amount of particles -- often made up of chemicals such as arsenic, selenium, and mercury, gaseous pollutants such as sulfur and nitrogen oxides -- can lead to a 3 percent overall increase in the risk of death. These increases in particles also push up the risk of death from heart disease by 10 percent and, for nonsmokers, can increase the risk of death from respiratory disease by 27 percent.

Researchers considered the levels of air pollution in states and cities using data from the EPA, and compared them with health statistics from each of the locations. In calculating health risk, they also worked to rule out variables such as other health concerns, age, race, ethnicity, body size, smoking, alcohol intake and other socio-economic factors.

They also considered the location of participants, such as those in California, which has some of the most restrictive pollution laws in the United States, finding no difference in the risk of death due to particle exposure.

"We need to better inform policymakers about the types and sources of particulate pollution so they know where to focus regulations," said Dr. Richard Hayes, a professor of population health and environmental medicine at NYU Langone. "It is especially important to continue monitoring health risks as national standards for air pollution are strengthened."

The study is published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

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