Air pollution below EPA standards linked with higher death rates

June 3, 2015, Harvard School of Public Health

A new study by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that death rates among people over 65 are higher in zip codes with more fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) than in those with lower levels of PM2.5. It is the first study to examine the effect of soot particles in the air in the entire population of a region, including rural areas. The harmful effects from the particles were observed even in areas where concentrations were less than a third of the current standard set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"Most of the country is either meeting the EPA standards now, or is expected to meet them in a few years as new power plant controls kick in," said senior author Joel Schwartz, professor of environmental epidemiology. "This study shows that it is not enough. We need to go after coal plants that still aren't using scrubbers to clean their emissions, as well as other sources of particles like traffic and wood smoke."

The study appears online June 3, 2015 in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Previous studies have linked both short- and long-term exposure to PM2.5 with increased mortality, through mechanisms such as heart disorders, increased blood pressure, and reduced lung function.

The researchers used satellite data to determine particle levels and temperatures in every zip code in New England. This allowed them to examine the effects of PM2.5 on locations far from monitoring stations, and to look at the effects of short-term exposures and annual average exposures simultaneously. They analyzed health data from everyone covered by Medicare in New England - 2.4 million people - between 2003 and 2008 and followed them each year until they died.

They found that both short- and long-term PM2.5 exposure was significantly associated with higher , even when restricted to zip codes and times with annual exposures below EPA standards. Short-term (two-day) exposure led to a 2.14% increase in mortality per 10 μg/m3 increase in PM2.5 concentration, and long-term (one-year) exposure led to a 7.52% increase in mortality for each 10 µg/m3 increase.

"Particulate air pollution is like lead pollution, there is no evidence of a safe threshold even at levels far below current standards, including in the rural areas we investigated," said Schwartz. "We need to focus on strategies that lower exposure everywhere and all the time, and not just in locations or on days with high particulate levels."

Explore further: Long-term exposure to air pollution increases risk of hospitalization for lung, heart disease

More information: "Low-Concentration PM2.5 and Mortality: Estimating Acute and Chronic Effects in a Population-Based Study," Liuhua Shi, Antonella Zanobetti, Itai Kloog, Brent A. Coull, Petros Koutrakis, Steven J. Melly, and Joel D. Schwartz, Environmental Health Perspectives, online June 3, 2015, DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1409111

Related Stories

Long-term exposure to air pollution increases risk of hospitalization for lung, heart disease

April 17, 2012
Older adults may be at increased risk of being hospitalized for lung and heart disease, stroke, and diabetes following long-term exposure to fine-particle air pollution, according to a new study by researchers at Harvard ...

Long term exposure to air pollution linked to coronary events

January 21, 2014
Long term exposure to particulate matter in outdoor air is strongly linked to heart attacks and angina, and this association persists at levels of exposure below the current European limits, suggests research conducted at ...

Contaminant particles increase hospital admissions for children with respiratory illnesses

June 1, 2015
Particles of less than 2.5 microns emitted by vehicles have negative repercussions for bronchiolitis, pneumonia, asthma and bronchitis in children. Should their concentrations be reduced to the levels recommended by the WHO, ...

Fine particulate air pollution linked with increased autism risk

December 18, 2014
Women exposed to high levels of fine particulate matter specifically during pregnancy—particularly during the third trimester—may face up to twice the risk of having a child with autism than mothers living in areas with ...

Air pollution kills well below European Union air quality limits

December 8, 2013
The study, published in The Lancet, estimates that for every increase of 5 microgrammes per cubic metre (5 µg/m3) in annual exposure to fine-particle air pollution (PM2.5), the risk of dying from natural causes rises by ...

Fine particulate air pollution associated with increased risk of childhood autism

May 21, 2015
Exposure to fine particulate air pollution during pregnancy through the first two years of a child's life may be associated with an increased risk of the child developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a condition that affects ...

Recommended for you

One in four U.S. adults sits more than eight hours a day

November 20, 2018
(HealthDay)—Couch Potato Nation: Nearly half of Americans sit for far too many hours a day and don't get any exercise at all, a new study finds.

Teen personality traits linked to risk of death from any cause 50 years later

November 20, 2018
Personality traits evident as early as the teenage years may be linked to a heightened or lessened risk of death around 50 years later, suggests observational research of 'baby boomers,' published online in the Journal of ...

Sugar-sweetened beverages are harmful to health and may be addictive, researchers suggest

November 20, 2018
Just as we might have guessed, those tasty, sugar-sweetened beverages that increase risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases may actually be addictive. Youth between 13 and 18 years of age who were deprived of sugary drinks ...

Emotional abuse may be linked with menopause misery

November 19, 2018
Smoking, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle have long been linked to heightened symptoms of menopause. Now, a study headed by UC San Francisco has identified another factor that may add to menopause torment: an emotionally ...

How AI could help veterinarians code their notes

November 19, 2018
A team led by scientists at the School of Medicine has developed an algorithm that can read the typed-out notes from veterinarians and predict specific diseases that the animal may have.

Bullying and violence at work increases the risk of cardiovascular disease

November 19, 2018
People who are bullied at work or experience violence at work are at higher risk of heart and brain blood vessel problems, including heart attacks and stroke, according to the largest prospective study to investigate the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.