Study Warns Breathing Polluted Air Is Equivalent To Smoking A Pack Of Cigarettes Every Day

Air pollution has plagued cities around the world for decades, causing all sorts of breathing issues and health problems for those who inhale it. A new study says it’s now like smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. And it’s only going to get worse as global temperatures rise.

Millions of people are exposed to harmful air pollution and ground-level ozone in our cities, an unfortunate peril resulting from heavy traffic, fossil fuels and climate change, which exacerbates the problem.

Most people go about their daily lives never considering how air pollution affects their overall health. Unfortunately, even if people are perfectly healthy and don’t smoke, the air pollution they breathe in over the long-term is the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes every day for nearly three decades.

And as we all know, smoking can cause all sorts of health problems such as cancer and emphysema.

In a study that is now “the largest of its kind,” health professionals spent ten years studying the effects of air pollution on 7,000 people living in cities across the United States, and their report is alarming.

“We found that an increase of about three parts per billion [of ground-level ozone] outside your home was equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 29 years,” University of Washington epidemiologist Dr. Joel Kaufman told NPR. “Rates of chronic lung disease in this country are going up and increasingly it is recognized that this disease occurs in nonsmokers. We really need to understand what’s causing chronic lung disease, and it appears that air pollution exposures that are common and hard to avoid might be a major contributor.”

Indeed, and since the current administration is going to change the math when it comes to dealing with air pollution, the number of deaths is going to skyrocket.

“The increase in emphysema we observed was relatively large,” Columbia University Irving Medical Center physician and professor R. Graham Barr told CNN.

The study also found that a big contributor to the development of lung diseases is smog, also known as ground-level ozone.

“These findings matter since ground-level ozone levels are rising, and the amount of emphysema on CT scans predicts hospitalization from and deaths due to chronic lower respiratory disease,” Graham said.

And global temperature rise due to climate change is going to accelerate the process that creates ground-level ozone, which will only make things worse.

“Ground-level ozone is produced when UV light reacts with pollutants from fossil fuels,” Dr. Barr explained. “This process is accelerated by heatwaves, so ground-level ozone will likely continue to increase unless additional steps are taken to reduce fossil fuel emissions and curb climate change. But it’s not clear what level of ozone, if any, is safe for human health.”

Johns Hopkins University assistant professor of medicine Emily Brigham, despite not being part of the study team, knows this is bad news for the most vulnerable of the population.

“And so as climate change progresses, we expect that vulnerable populations and — even healthy populations — are going to see increased effects,” she said.

This is an unfolding tragedy that the fossil fuel industry is perpetuating. People are dying every day because of this pollution, and the only way to stop it is to end the fossil fuel industry permanently and start punishing companies that violate the Clean Air Act, which should be strengthened by additional congressional action.

We need clean air to survive. It’s time to fight for our lives by fighting for it.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.
 

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