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Air Quality

Published on April 14th, 2019 | by Cynthia Shahan

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Air Pollution Increases ER Visits — Largest US Study On The Topic Confirms It

April 14th, 2019 by  


We may not even see them, but tiny particles, particulates in the PM2.5 size range, are able to travel deeply into the respiratory tract. PM2.5 infiltrates the lungs, all the way to the alveoli, where oxygen is transferred into the bloodstream. Exposure to nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter, or PM, can cause grave trouble with one’s health.

Image courtesy US EPA

Those fine particles get into our bloodstream which affects every part of one’s body, and go to our brain as well. They worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease.

Eye, nose, throat, and lung irritation, coughing, sneezing, runny nose and shortness of breath can all emerge from an overload to vulnerable human immune responses.

Image courtesy the American Thoracic Society

CleanTechnica reports continuously on air pollution studies, and there is always more study going on to examine the effects on babies, kids, adults, and the elderly. The BBC has a good piece titled “What does air pollution do to our bodies? Along with known links to cancer and other diseases, these fine particulates are suspected to offset growth in the young.

Emissions from traffic and poor choices in transit are one of the major causes of our dangerous air. Fresh air, a precious commodity, disappears as many fossil-powered cars, trucks, buses, and off-road vehicles (e.g., construction equipment, snowmobile, locomotive) emit fine particulates from their tailpipes.

A US study published online in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine signals that, as levels of ozone and fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) rise, more patients end up in the ER.

The reason: they struggle to breathe. It is not a comfortable experience. Worse, it can be life-threatening. Breathing problems due to air pollution, according to the study, have led to increased emergency room visits from patients of all ages.

“In ‘Age-specific Associations of Ozone and PM2.5 with Respiratory Emergency Department Visits in the U.S.,’ Heather M. Strosnider, PhD, MPH, and colleagues report on the associations between ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution and ER visits for asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and respiratory infections.”


“Previous studies of ER visits related to respiratory illness have shown that children are particularly susceptible to air pollution, but those studies were mostly confined to a single city,” said Dr. Strosnider, lead health scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Environmental Public Health Tracking Program (Tracking Program). This study, however, looked at ER visits across hundreds of US counties.

“Ozone, the main ingredient of smog, and fine particulate pollution, microscopic particles that penetrate deep into the lung, are two important forms of air pollution in the U.S. The study looked at the levels of these two pollutants in 869 counties in the week prior to an ER visit for a breathing problem. The study included nearly 40 million ER visits for breathing problems from the counties, which represent 45 percent of the U.S. population.” The study found:

  • An association between ozone and respiratory ER visits among all age groups, with the strongest association in adults under age 65. Per 20 parts per billion (ppb) increase in ozone, the rate of an ER visit for respiratory problems increased 1.7 percent among children, 5.1 percent among adults under 65 and 3.3 percent among adults over 65.
  • Increased levels of ozone resulted in increased ER visits for asthma, acute respiratory infections, COPD and pneumonia. Overall the association was strongest for asthma among adults under 65.
  • An association was found between fine particulate pollution (PM5) and respiratory ER visits among children and adults under the age of 65, with the strongest association among children. Per 10 microgram per cubic meter (µg/m3) increase in PM2.5, the rate of an ER visit increased 2.4 percent in children and 0.8 percent among adults under 65.
  • Increased levels of fine particulate matter resulted in increased visits for asthma, acute respiratory infections and pneumonia.

The authors wrote that their study findings support the Environmental Protection Agency’s “determination of a likely causal relationship between PM2.5 and respiratory effects and a causal relationship between ozone and respiratory effects.” However, they emphasized that their study also found important variations in those relationships based on the age of the patient, the pollutant, and the respiratory illness under consideration.

A CleanTechnica favorite, the movie The Human Element, takes this issue to heart and features some of the heroic voices of the children affected. Don’t miss hearing the children describe the daily work of breathing compromised air. The new film shows first hand the struggle affecting young students who must go to a special school rather than miss months of formal education.

Image courtesy The Human Element

This ATS study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Environmental Public Health Tracking Program (cdc.gov/ephtracking). 
 
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About the Author

Cynthia Shahan started writing by doing research as a social cultural and sometimes medical anthropology thinker. She studied and practiced both Waldorf education, and Montessori education. Eventually becoming an organic farmer, licensed AP, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings born with spiritual insights and ethics beyond this world. (She was able to advance more in this way led by her children.)



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