Current air quality standards do not protect the public

A nationwide US study of more than 60 million senior citizens linked long-term exposure to two main smog pollutants – ozone (O3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – to an increased risk of premature death. The analysis found no sign of a “safe” level of pollution, below which the risk of dying early tapered off.

Harvard University scientists who conducted the study calculated that reducing fine particle pollution by 1 microgram per cubic metre (µg/m3) nationwide would save about 12,000 lives each year.

Another 1,900 lives would be saved annually by lowering ozone pollution by 1 part per billion (ppb), they found.

For PM2.5, which has a legal limit of 1 2 µg/m3, they found that seniors faced an increased risk of premature death when exposed to as little as 5 µg/m3, the lowest amount they measured. For ozone, which has a limit of 70 ppb, they detected increased mortality at levels as low as 30 ppb, also the smallest concentration they measured.

The findings suggest that even though federal limits on the nation’s most widespread air pollutants are updated periodically based on scientific reviews required under the Clean Air Act, they are not strict enough to fully protect the public.

Source: LA Times, 28 June 2017
The article “Air pollution and mortality in the medicare population”. New England Journal of Medicine, June 2017. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1702747


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