Another Study Shows: Air Pollution Hurts Us — A Lot

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Another scientific article is out on the health effects of air pollution, and this one exposes both the long and the short of it. The comprehensive study proves what numerous other studies and common sense told us: air pollution hurts us.

Yaguang Wei, a doctoral candidate at Harvard Chan School of Public Health and lead author of the study, and his associates had their work published online November 27, 2019, in the journal BMJ. It shows short-term exposure to air pollution is linked to new causes of hospital admissions and substantial economic costs.

“Hospitalizations for several common diseases—including septicemia (serious bloodstream infection), fluid and electrolyte disorders, renal failure, urinary tract infections, and skin and tissue infections—have been linked for the first time with short-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5).”

“The study shows that the health dangers and economic impacts of air pollution are significantly larger than previously understood,” said Yaguang Wei. It’s discouraging to hear because children absorb more air pollution than adults.

“Fine particulate air pollution is composed of tiny solids and liquids floating in the air that come from sources such as motor vehicles, coal-fired power plants, and wildfires. Previous studies have shown that, when inhaled, the particles can enter deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems. ‘For this study, we wanted to shed further light on the risks of exposure to short-term air pollution by searching for links between such pollution and all diseases that are plausible causes of hospitalizations,’ said Joel Schwartz, professor of environmental epidemiology at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study.”

image courtesy US EPA

An earlier US study published online in the the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine signaled the same. As levels of ozone and fine particulate pollution (PM2.5) rise, more patients end up in the ER. 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. There is overload to vulnerable human immune responses. And the Harvard Chan study confirms the disease evolution to other pathologies.

Certainly, healthy lungs nurture the other organs of the body, and any distress will affect all of the body, being that everything is connected. Harvard’s press release continued by noting that the researchers classified the diseases into 214 disease groups.

“They then analyzed 13 years’ worth of hospital admissions records, from 2000 to 2012, from more than 95 million inpatient hospital claims for Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older. To estimate daily PM2.5 levels across the U.S., researchers used a computer model that predicts exposure using satellite-based measurements and a computer simulation of air pollution. They then matched the PM2.5 data with the zip codes of study participants.

“In addition to showing that short-term exposure to PM2.5 was associated with several newly identified causes of hospital admissions among older adults, the study confirmed previously identified associations between short-term exposure and hospitalization risk for a number of other ailments, including several cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes.”

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We no longer can claim mystery regarding these diseases or blame only genetic predisposition. Air pollutants interfere aggressively with brain activity, lung health, heart health, and more, even being linked to brain disorders and Parkinson’s disease.

There’s more to health, and that is the need for care, which costs money. Talking economics, the Harvard Chan School study continues, “In an economic analysis, researchers found that each 1 μg/m3 increase in short-term exposure to PM2.5 was associated with an annual increase of 5,692 hospitalizations, 32,314 days in the hospital, and 634 deaths, corresponding to $100 million annual inpatient and post-acute care costs, and $6.5 billion in “value of statistical life” (a metric used to determine the economic value of lives lost).”

Thanks to the contributing authors of the Harvard Chan School study: Yan Wang, Qian Di, Christine Choirat, Yun Wang, Petros Koutrakis, and Antonella Zanobetti. Thanks to all the researchers who provide a never-ending flow of research to support policy change in favor of clean air.

At the end of the day, the best solution to the concerns, health crises, and risk of premature death noted in this study is probably to switch to an electric car.

Drive zero emissions vehicles if you can to offset air pollution.

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Cynthia Shahan

Cynthia Shahan, started writing after previously doing research and publishing work on natural birth practices. Words can be used improperly depending on the culture you are in. (Several unrelated publications) She has a degree in Education, Anthropology, Creative Writing, and was tutored in Art as a young child thanks to her father the Doctor. Pronouns: She/Her

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