A study of over 60 million American seniors recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that long-term exposure to particulate matter air pollution raises the risk of premature death of people over 65 years of age, even at levels well below U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.
In urban areas, diesel exhaust is one of the main sources of particulate matter, along with coal-fired power plants.
“We are now providing bulletproof evidence that we breathing harmful air. It is very strong compelling evidence that currently, the safety standards are not safe enough.” Francesca Dominici, co-director of the Harvard Data Science Initiative.
The study, “Air Pollution and Mortality in the Medicare Population”, found that the risks of premature death were highest in men, low-income elders, and blacks, with blacks having mortality risks three times higher than the general population.
The study authors reported that lowering particulate matter air pollution in the U.S. by just 1 microgram per cubic meter would save 12,000 lives per year. The current EPA annual average health standard for P.M. 2.5 is 12 micrograms per cubic meter.
Joel Schwartz, Harvard University professor of environmental epidemiology and the study’s senior author said “This study shows that although we think air quality in the United States is good enough to protect our citizens, in fact we need to lower pollution levels even further.”
To learn more, check out the excellent NPR audio news report or other references below.