Study: Short-term exposure to air pollution can lead to 20,000 extra deaths a year

Air population can have negative effects on our health, but just how dangerous is it? It contributes to more than 20,000 deaths a year, according to a new report.

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Researchers from Harvard University recently conducted a study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, to determine the link between air quality and mortality risk.

To do so, they examined daily air pollution using a prediction model that accurately estimated hazardous, fine particles known as PM 2.5. They compared those details with mortality data they assessed over a 13-year period, which included 22 million deaths, using the U.S. Medicare population residing in 39,182 zip codes.

After the analyzing the information, they found that each day the PM 2.5 increased by 10 micrograms per square meter, there was a 1.05 rise in deaths. And for each 10 parts per billion increase in ozone, a main component of smog, the death rate went up by 0.51 percent.

While the increase may seem minimal, "this translates to PM 2.5 causing an extra 20,000 deaths a year," co-author, Joel D. Schwartz told The New York Times. "Separately, a 10 parts per billion decrease in ozone would save 10,000 lives per year."

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"We found that the mortality rate increases almost linearly as air pollution increases. Any level of air pollution, no matter how low, is harmful to human health," coauthor Francesca Dominici said in a statement.

A few subgroups were especially affected. For Medicaid recipients, the mortality increase was three times higher than those not eligible for the low-income-based health program. Furthermore, women and nonwhites had a 25 percent higher chance of death, compared to males and whites.

Scientists are now hoping officials will use their findings to enforce pollution laws and implement newer ones. They also believe the Environmental Protection Agency should re-evaluate the daily National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

“No matter where you live—in cities, in the suburbs, or in rural areas,” the authors wrote, “as long as you breathe air pollution, you are at risk.”

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