WASHINGTON – Older Americans who regularly breathe in even low-level pollution from secondhand smoke, car exhaust, wildfires and other sources have a higher risk of premature death, according to a new study. main research Wednesday release.
Researchers at the Institute for Health Effects, a group funded by the Environmental Protection Agency as well as automakers and fossil fuel companies, examined health data from 68.5 million people receive Medicare across the United States. They found that if federal regulations on allowable levels of soot were slightly lower, 143,000 deaths could be prevented over the course of a decade.
Exposure to fine particulate matter has long been associated with respiratory disease and impaired cognitive development in children. Small particles can enter the lungs and bloodstream to affect lung function, worsen asthma, and cause heart attacks and other serious illnesses. Previous research has found that exposure to particulate matter contributes to about 20,000 deaths each year.
The new study is the first in the United States to document the deadly effects of particulate matter known as PM 2.5 (because of its width of 2.5 microns or less) on people living in rural areas. Villages and towns have little industry.
“We found an increased risk of premature death from exposure to air pollution, even at very low levels of air pollution across the country,” said Daniel S. Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute.
The finding comes as the Biden administration is considering whether to strengthen the national standard for PM 2.5, which is currently set at an annual average of 12 micrograms/cubic meter, well above the Foundation’s recommendation. World Health or not.
The researchers concluded that 143,257 deaths could be prevented between 2006 and 2016 if standards were tightened to 10 micrograms per cubic meter.
Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatistics at Harvard who led the study, said: “If we reduce PM 2.5, we will save a huge number of lives. “It is very meaningful.”
Dr Dominici added: “This is important evidence for the EPA to consider.
Other studies have linked fine soot pollution to higher rates of Covid-19 mortality, with Blacks and other communities of color at particularly high risk because they are more likely to be in near highways, power plants and other industrial facilities.
The Biden administration has made stricter regulations on emissions from power plants, factories and other industrial sites central to its strategy to address environmental equity.
By law, the EPA is required to review the latest science and update the soot standard every five years. The Trump administration chose not to strengthen the standard when conducting its most recent review, despite growing scientific evidence of public health harm caused by particulate matter.
Using publicly available data on 68.5 million Medicare recipients — nearly every American over the age of 65 — the researchers focused on people living in rural areas and other places not covered by the Environmental Protection Agency. monitoring schools are good, either because they are sparsely populated or because pollution levels are not considered to be as high as in the cities or along the congested East Coast.
Karin Stein, 60, moved to Iowa from her native Colombia as a student in 1980 and now lives in Jasper County with her family. Even in rural areas near Rock Creek State Park, she said, wildfire smoke aggravates her heart condition and is a major concern.
“It’s casual,” she said. “But you have Western wildfires, or it’s time to harvest. We assume that there are no air quality issues. But that is simply wrong. ”
An EPA spokesman said the agency expects to propose a draft rule in the summer and issue a final rule in the spring of 2023.
Polluting industries are expected to lobby against a new stricter soot pollution rule.
The American Petroleum Institute, which represents oil and gas companies, did not review the Health Effects Institute’s study but questioned the need for stricter regulations on pollution. In a statement, the trade group said “current scientific evidence shows that existing standards are effectively designed to protect public health and meet regulatory requirements.”
The institute notes that emissions of traditional pollutants such as PM 2.5 have decreased significantly since the 1970s due to the use of cleaner automotive fuels and the rise of natural gas in electricity generation instead of coal.
Some experts say the companies have resigned because of the possibility that the Biden administration will tighten regulation, but are concerned about how far it could go.
“It’s a question of how much money,” said Jeffrey Holmstead, an attorney who served on the EPA in both Bush administrations.
Mr Holmstead said it would be “very expensive” to significantly reduce the allowable limits. He also noted that in communities without major industrial centers, most of the soot pollution comes from cars, making it difficult for state governments to regulate.
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“You say we are going to ban any kind of combustion engine because everything contributes to PM 2.5?” Mr. Holmstead said. “And if you set a level that’s too strict, you’re essentially banning any new economic development in certain parts of the country.”
However, the science that recognizes the health consequences of exposure to air pollution has increased since Harvard University in 1990 released the landmark “six cities” study, which found living in heavily polluted cities can reduce a person’s life expectancy by two to three years.
Hazel Chandler, 76, lives in Phoenix and says she considers herself a prime example of someone living with the cumulative effects of more than 40 years of air pollution.
Ms. Chandler said that when she moved to Arizona from Southern California in 1977, the relatively fresh air was a relief. But as the city’s population boomed, so did her asthma and breathing problems.
“Sometimes we have multiple days of pollution in a row and I don’t need to see the air quality warnings anymore,” she said. “I know.”
“I can tell by the pressure in my lungs and in my chest, the amount of cough, I have a chronic cough,” Ms. Chandler said. “I can tell if I wake up with a really bad cough, it could be a high-pollution day.”
Ms. Chandler, a consultant with Moms Clean Air Force, an environmental nonprofit group, said she was worried about older adults with heart conditions and other health problems that could become severe. than pollution. But she is even more interested in younger children.
“I moved to Phoenix when I was about 30 and it still affects my ability to breathe,” she says. “If it affects older people, what will it do to the children who are living here and breathing this for their whole lives?”
Jennifer L. Peel, chair of epidemiology at Colorado State University’s Department of Environmental and Radiation Health Sciences, says studying areas that are not well-supervised is challenging because it can be difficult to identify. pollution exposure.
But Dr Peel, who was not part of the research team and independently reviewed the study, called it a “great first step” and said, overall, the study was the most comprehensive she had ever seen. .
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/26/climate/air-pollution-study-epa.html Even low levels of soot can be fatal for older adults, study results