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Early deaths due to air pollution and long-term exposure – New research

Long-term exposure to low concentrations of air pollution may cause many early deaths

Dallas, TX, United States, 11/01/2021 / Top Wire News /

Exposure to low levels of air pollution within the levels permitted by federal regulations may be causing tens of thousands of early deaths each year among the elderly and other vulnerable groups in the US suggests a large national study conducted by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study was published on 7th October 2021 in The Lancet Planetary Health Journal. Mahdieh Danesh Yazdi, lead study author and postdoctoral fellow in Harvard Chan School’s Department of Environmental Health says “We found that among elderly patients enrolled in Medicare, small increases in long-term exposure to both particle and gaseous air pollutants increased the risk of death, even at levels deemed safe by current regulations. Our findings suggest that current air pollution limits are not adequate to protect the health of vulnerable groups.”

Previous studies have also suggested that people are exposed to air pollution concentrations that are lower than the levels permitted by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. Although, most earlier studies didn’t focus on people who were continually exposed to lower levels of pollution during the study period, as done by the new study.

Researchers also used a robust causal modeling technique along with a large dataset for their analysis that gave them enough power to detect links between air pollution and mortality in various demographic and socioeconomic subgroups.

The final analysis examined data on millions of Medicare enrollees between 2000 and 2016. The researchers predicted people’s exposure levels to air pollutants using satellite data, meteorological data, land-use data, and chemical transport models to generate daily pollution predictions along with annual average exposure levels across the U.S. Participants were assigned exposures based on their residential zip codes. The researchers also adjusted for different varying factors such as age, sex, race, smoking history, and education levels.

The study analyzed the effects of three different types of pollutants, namely fine particulate matter or PM 2.5- particulates with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air (μg/m3), nitrogen oxide (NO2), and summer ozone (O3). The researchers limited their study to individuals who were exposed to air pollution concentrations below the annual maximums recommended by the EPA. For PM2.5, the annual limit is 12 μg/m3; for NO2, it’s 53 parts per billion (ppb) while there is no regulation regarding long-term exposure for O3, so the researchers chose 50 ppb as an upper exposure limit for the purpose of the study.

All of the studied pollutants increased the mortality risk among the participants. According to the researchers, thousands of deaths could be attributed to even small increases in annual air pollution concentrations. Each 1 μg/m3 increase in the annual concentration of PM2.5 increased the absolute annual risk of death by 0.073%. While each 1ppb increase in annual concentrations of NO2 increased the annual risk of death by 0.003% and each 1ppb increase in annual concentrations of O3 increased the death risk by 0.081%.


Long-term exposure to low concentrations of air pollution may cause many early deaths

Long-term effect of exposure to lower concentrations of air pollution on mortality among US Medicare participants and vulnerable subgroups: a doubly-robust approach


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