Speed Reads

the air we breathe

Study: Exposure to even 'safe' levels of air pollution could lead to early death

Harvard University scientists who studied more than 60 million American senior citizens found that long-term exposure to ozone and fine particulate matter, two main air pollutants, is linked to premature death.

Even when the pollutants measured below the limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency, there was still an increased risk of dying early, the scientists said. Fine particulate matter is tiny specks of pollution that can stick to the lungs and is linked to cardiovascular disease, while ozone, found in warm-weather smog, can cause respiratory illness; build-ups of both are caused by emissions from vehicles and power plants.

The researchers developed a new computer model that used air-monitoring data from the ground and satellite measurements to estimate pollution levels in the U.S., the Los Angeles Times reports. They paired that information with health data from Medicare beneficiaries living in the continental United States from 2000 to 2012, and found that it only took being exposed to as little as five micrograms per cubic meter of fine particulate matter, the lowest amount measured, to have an increased risk of premature death. If fine particulate pollution was decreased by one microgram per cubic meter across the United States, it would save about 12,000 lives annually, and if ozone pollution was lowered by one part per billion, an additional 1,900 lives would be saved every year, the researchers determined.

This study will be published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, accompanied by an editorial urging the government to tighten regulation on fine particulate matter and ozone. Read more about the new study — and how EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is delaying implementing the federal ozone standard because of "increased costs to businesses" — at the Los Angeles Times.