Air quality controls are saving lives, new research showed. Photo by EPA-EFE/RYAN TONG
Oct. 19 (UPI) -- Over the course of two decades, from 1990 to 2000, the number of deaths attributed to air pollution has been cut in half.
The new study, published Friday in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, is only the latest to show pollution protections have had a positive impact on humans and environmental health.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina developed a model capable of estimating the number of deaths caused by air pollution each year. The statistical model relies on previous research into the health effects of air pollution. The model is populated using measurements of PM2.5 and ozone.
Particulate matter measuring less than 2.5 microns across can be inhaled deep into the lungs. The pollution has been linked with a variety of human ailments, including lung disease, heart disease, stroke and cancer.
The simulation looked at the relationship between ozone and PM2.5 concentrations and population declines in cities across the United States. CDC data helped the simulation identify the number of deaths attributable to air pollution.
According to the model, deaths caused by air pollution declined by 49 percent between 1990 and 2010.
"These health improvements likely have continued beyond 2010 as we observe that air pollutant concentrations have continued to decrease," researcher Yuqiang Zhang said in a news release.
Research published last month determined environmental regulations were largely to thank for improving air quality during the latter half of the 20th century.
Though good news, the results of the latest study offer a reminder of the pollution's pervasive impact on human health. The simulation showed 1 in every 35 deaths in the U.S. can be at least partially attributed to air pollution.
Previous studies have shown air pollution shortens global life expectancy by at least a year.
"Even though we've seen some tangible success, there are still people dying, and a public health challenge remains going forward," said Jason West, professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the UNC. "New federal policies curtailing air pollution regulations likely will slow the improvement in air quality or possibly make air quality worse."