Posted in | News | Pollution | Sustainability

Reductions in Air Pollution Yield Fast and Dramatic Impacts on Health Outcomes

Based on findings in “Health Benefits of Air Pollution Reduction,” a new study published in the American Thoracic Society’s journal, Annals of the American Thoracic Society, decreases in air pollution produced rapid and significant impacts on health outcomes, as well as reductions in all-cause morbidity.

The study by the Environmental Committee of the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) examined interventions that have decreased air pollution at its source. It searched for results and time to realize those results in numerous settings, discovering that the enhancements in health were remarkable.

Beginning at week 1 of a ban on smoking in Ireland, for example, there was a 26% decrease in ischemic heart disease, a 13% fall in all-cause mortality, a 32% reduction in stroke, and a 38% decrease in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Fascinatingly, the highest benefits, in that case, occurred among non-smokers.

We knew there were benefits from pollution control, but the magnitude and relatively short time duration to accomplish them were impressive. Our findings indicate almost immediate and substantial effects on health outcomes followed reduced exposure to air pollution. It’s critical that governments adopt and enforce WHO guidelines for air pollution immediately.

Dr Dean Schraufnagel, MD, ATSF and Study Lead Author, The University of Illinois at Chicago

In the United States, a 13-month shut down of a steel mill in Utah caused a reduction in hospitalizations for pneumonia, bronchitis, pleurisy, and asthma by half. School absenteeism dropped by 40%, and daily mortality declined by 16% for every 100 µg/m3 decrease in PM10 (a pollutant). Women who were pregnant when the mill closed were less probable to have premature births.

During the 1996 Olympic Games, a 17-day “transportation strategy,” in Atlanta, Georgia required the closing of parts of the city to help athletes reach their event venues on time. This in turn also considerably decreased air pollution. In the subsequent four weeks, children’s visits to clinics for asthma reduced by over 40% and trips to emergency departments by 11%.

A reduction of 19% in hospitalizations for asthma was noted. Likewise, when China enforced factory and travel restrictions for the Beijing Olympics, lung function became better within two months, with fewer asthma-related physician visits and less cardiovascular mortality.

Besides city-wide policies, decreasing air pollution within the home also resulted in health benefits. In Nigeria, families that used clean cook stoves, which decreased indoor air pollution, during a nine-month pregnancy term witnessed greater gestational age at delivery, higher birth weights, and less perinatal mortality.

The report also analyzes the economic effect of environmental policies. It emphasizes that 25 years after the enactment of the Clean Air Act, the U.S. EPA predicted that the health benefits surpassed the cost by 32:1, saving two trillion dollars. This act has been proclaimed as one of the most useful public health policies of all time in the United States.

Emissions of the major pollutants (sulfur oxides, particulate matter (PM), carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, lead, and volatile organic compounds) were decreased by 73% between 1990 and 2015, while the U.S. gross domestic product increased by over 250%.

Based on these findings, Dr Schraufnagel is optimistic.

Air pollution is largely an avoidable health risk that affects everyone. Urban growth, expanding industrialization, global warming, and new knowledge of the harm of air pollution raise the degree of urgency for pollution control and stress the consequences of inaction.

Dr Dean Schraufnagel, MD, ATSF and Study Lead Author, The University of Illinois at Chicago

Dr Schraufnagel added, “Fortunately, reducing air pollution can result in prompt and substantial health gains. Sweeping policies affecting a whole country can reduce all-cause mortality within weeks. Local programs, such as reducing traffic, have also promptly improved many health measures.”


Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a review, update or anything you would like to add to this news story?

Leave your feedback
Your comment type