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Rise in Air Pollutants Linked to Increase in Premature Deaths

Rise in Air Pollutants Linked to Increase in Premature Deaths

Smoke from California Wildfires contribute to air pollutants that impair health

Air quality in the United States improved between 2009 to 2016, but has declined again between 2016 and 2018, according to a new report released by the National Bureau of Economic Research. An increase in air pollutants and the corresponding decline in air quality has significant health implications, particularly amongst the elderly, reducing life expectancy by as much as ten years, according to the report.

The average annual levels of atmospheric fine particulate matter (PM2.5) dropped by 24.2% between 2009-2016, but rose by 5.5% between 2016-2018 across US counties that monitored these emissions. The levels of fine particulate matter increased in several regions, including counties that met National Ambient Air Quality Standards, as well as those that didn’t.

The report explored various channels that could have contributed to the increase in atmospheric PM2.5 air pollutants, including an increase in wildfires, increased economic activity, and reductions in enforcing the Clean Air Act. It also looked at the health implications that the increase in fine particulate matter air pollutants had on the population.

According to the report, an increase in wildfires and economic activity together with a decrease in Clean Air Act enforcement actions have all contributed to the increase in fine particulate matter air pollutants, however, more research in needed to determine how much each of these factors has contributed and also to identify other possible causes.

The report found that the rise in fine particulate matter air pollutants caused 9,700 people to die prematurely in 2018, with the elderly (80% of those affected) being most at risk. According to monitoring data, increases in atmospheric fine particulate matter air pollutants were particularly high in California, where due to the larger number of people exposed to these higher levels of atmospheric particulates, 43% of the increase in premature deaths recorded between 2016-2018 occurred. Putting a monetary value on these deaths, results in damages equating to US$89 billion.

These findings highlight the link between air quality and increased mortality, and stress how important it is for policy-makers to target air pollution as both an environmental and human health issue.

Featured Image by Dicklyon - Own work, [CC BY-SA 4.0]
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