Weak Air Pollution Rules Have Led To Tens Of Thousands Of Deaths In The United States

A new study suggests that insufficient rules regarding air pollution have led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people in the United States, according to The Guardian:

“US air pollution rules could be hugely insufficient in preventing deaths, experts are concluding from a new study of the likely causes of death of 4.5 million veterans.

“Published in the peer-reviewed journal Jama, the research finds that 99% of deaths from illnesses linked to a certain type of air pollution occur in people who are exposed to lower levels than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently deems acceptable.”

Yet despite this data, the Trump administration seems prepared to maintain the current standard. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also in the process of “reconsidering” already established science which links particle pollution from fossil fuels to a large number of illnesses.

Currently, at least 200,000 Americans die each year as a result of air pollution, but researchers have been unable to tie half of those deaths directly to environmental factors prior to the new study.

Here’s how the research was conducted:

“The new research reviewed the medical records of veterans who died and compared them with the air pollution levels in their zip codes. They focused on PM 2.5, or inhalable particulate matter pollution that is 2.5 micrometers or smaller – a fraction of the width of a human hair.”

Using that information, nine causes of death were linked to air pollution: Cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, dementia, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, lung cancer. and pneumonia.

Of those nine, three were “newly identified associations”: Chronic kidney disease, hypertension and dementia.

Miles Keogh, executive director of a group that represents state and local air regulators, noted:

“We know people are harmed from exposure levels lower than the [current standards].

“The question is whether the trade-offs for society are worth it. If only a few people are harmed, maybe society accepts the risk. But when a study shows 99% of death occurring at exposure levels below that threshold, that should make us look much harder at whether the threshold protects people effectively enough.”

Additionally, the study also highlighted the inequities between black and white Americans when it comes to air pollution:

“Black Americans were more likely to be exposed to higher levels of PM 2.5. But they also got sicker than white people even when they were breathing the same air. That could be because of socio-economic factors, such as poverty and access to healthcare.”

Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, who directs the clinical epidemiology center at Washington University in St Louis and is chief of research at Veterans Affairs St Louis Health Care System, remarked that pollution is indeed much worse for people of color:

“I went into it thinking pollution is color blind … it turns out to be it’s not true. Actually, pollution itself does discriminate. For the same level of pollution, black people tend to be affected more. And on top of that, black people get exposed to more pollution than white people.

“It’s kind of like a double-whammy. It’s really unfair.”

Most troubling of all, however, is the fact that the U.S. government appears to have no plan for dealing with the problem of air pollution, meaning thousands more people will die in the future.

 

Featured Image Via Public Domain Images

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Andrew Bradford
 

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