Concerns Being Raised on Air Pollution Despite Levels Currently Accepted As ‘Safe’

The Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) warns that government agencies must not become complacent in the effort to provide clean air to all citizens. Despite the advancements that have been made since the 1963 introduction of the Clean Air Act in the United States, much more remains to be done.

The most recent example of this is a report published on June 29, 2017, in the New England Journal of Medicine, that was looking at 12 years of Medicare beneficiary data, which showed the risk of death increased in proportion to the amount of fine particulate matter in the atmosphere. Most concerning was the finding that, although the current National Ambient Air Quality Standards declare that 12 micrograms per cubic meter of fine, inhalable particles (those with an aerodynamic diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less, or “PM2.5“) is an acceptable level, there was a 13.6% increase in the risk of death for every increase in 10 micrograms of fine particles per cubic meter of air below that “acceptable” threshold. The study also found there was no “safe” level of exposure, or level where the risk of death was unchanged.

Average PM2.5 and Ozone Concentrations in the Continental United States, 2000 through 2012. Credit: The New England Journal of Medicine

Major producers of PM2.5 particles globally include the burning of solid fuels (such as coal and wood), and various fuels for transportation. “More than 2.8 billion people worldwide use solid fuel for cooking, and many more use solid fuels for heating their homes,” according to Dr. Akshay Sood, Professor of Medicine at the University of New Mexico and member of FIRS Environmental Committee.

Dr. Sood continues, “People have seen pictures of New Delhi, Beijing, or Los Angeles smog. This smog is made up of these fine particles. It is concerning that communities in the United States that meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards and believe their air is ‘safe’ may not entirely be protected from the adverse health effects of PM2.5.” Certain segments of the population, such as children, the elderly, and those with cardiopulmonary diseases are at higher risk of the health effects of pollution.

Inadequate outdoor air quality affects many people around the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 92% of the world’s population live in areas with inadequate outdoor air quality, and this pollution contributes to 1 out of every 8 deaths. This new data from the United States should spur governments to redouble their efforts to provide their citizens with the cleanest air possible. FIRS strongly recommends compliance with WHO Air Quality Guidelines, as well as the Paris Climate Agreement.

Journal Reference’s DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1702747

 

 

 

Source:  American Thoracic Society (ATS)

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