Long-term exposure to air pollutants is associated with emphysema and worsening lung functioning, offering an explanation for emphysema in non-smokers, according to a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The increase in emphysema among those exposed to polluted air was similar to increased lung damage caused by smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 29 years, R. Graham Barr, senior author of the study told CNN.
Emphysema — typically associated with cigarette smoking — is a chronic disease in which lung tissue is damaged and cannot "effectively transfer oxygen in the body," says the National Institutes of Health, sub-groups of which funded the study. It is not curable, but can be managed.
Ozone, created by a chemical reaction when pollutants are emitted by sources like cars and industrial plants, was the worst pollutant offender, which is concerning as ground-level ozone levels are rising, Barr told Science Daily. These levels will continue to increase "unless steps are taken to reduce this pollutant," Barr says. "But it's not clear what level of the air pollutants, if any, is safe for human health."
Stephen Holgate, a special adviser on air quality at the Royal College of Physicians in the U.K., told CNN that one of the study's limitations was that it didn't measure air pollution where people tend to spend the most time: indoors.
The study analyzed more than 7,000 people aged 45 to 84 between 2000 and 2018. Researchers sampled populations from six U.S. cities, including New York, Baltimore, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Read more at NIH. Taylor Watson
While world leaders discussed climate change and air pollution in Paris on Monday, residents of Beijing were breathing in thick smog and encouraged by the government to stay indoors.
Beijing saw its worst air pollution for 2015 on Monday, with extremely hazardous levels of pollutants detected around the city; in one suburb, particle readings hit 976 micrograms per cubic meter — more than 900 micrograms higher than the safe level. China is the world's biggest total carbon polluter, with two-thirds of the country's energy coming from coal. On days like Monday, the government limits activities at construction sites and factories, and increases street cleaning, CBS News reports. The government blamed the intense smog on high humidity and a lack of wind. Catherine Garcia