Good Air, Long Lives

The research out there on air quality generally tracks the health effects of bad air in order to grow the pile of evidence that supports stricter pollution monitoring and restrictions.

Just this week, though, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study that puts a more positive spin on the data. This study shows how clearing out some of the particle pollution under the Clean Air Act of 1970 actually appears to have improved health and therefore extended lifespans.

This is a big deal. More and more physical evidence of the connection between clean air and good health makes it less likely (hopefully) that, say, any future president like our now-former one will be able to gut the very EPA that’s supposed to protect and improve U.S. air quality. Because how can you justify, for example, last-minute attempts to relax air quality restrictions for industrial polluters if evidence supports the life-extending effects of those controls? (I guess I already have the answer to that question, though–you just ignore the science. It’s like global warming! If you don’t admit it, then it doesn’t exist!)


Here’s more about the study. Between 1980 and 2000, researchers tracked particle pollution levels and life expectancies in 51 metro areas across the U.S.

What they found? Cleaning up air pollution seems to have added around 5 months and up to 10 months to people’s lives.

Think about that one for a minute.

If cleaning the air can actually add time to life expectancies, what do you suppose ignoring the need for clean air quality or making air pollution policy decisions based on business rather than health does?

Case in point: Pittsburgh. This CNN Health article on the study mentions that Pittsburgh cleaned up its air from 1980 to 2000 to the extent that the improvement added as much as 10 months to lifespans there.

Now fast-forward 8 years to the American Lung Association’s 2008 State of the Air report.

Guess who hit the #1 spot for worst short-term particle pollution and the #2 spot for worst particle pollution year-round?

That’s right. . . . Pittsburgh.

Clearly, it’s too early to tell how Pittsburgh’s rise to the top of the charts last year will translate to health effects for residents there, but here’s a key sentence from that ALA report:

Progress stalled in many other cities, slowing or eroding gains recorded earlier in the decade.

It seems safe to assume any research between 2000 and 2008 would not, therefore, show another 10-month life expectancy increase for Pittsburgh folks and could possibly even chart a decrease.

That’s just speculation, of course, my main point being this quote from a HealthDay article by Ed Edelson:

The study does help settle one basic issue, said study co-author Majid Ezzati, an associate professor of community health at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“We knew that air pollution was bad, but has lowering it been good over the long run?” he said. “The political spectrum has been divided on it. This study indicates that, yes, having lower air pollution has been good for the health of people in these cities.”

7 responses to “Good Air, Long Lives”

  1. Asthmagirl says:

    I am the canary in the mine! I wish more cities would take clean air seriously. We are on day 5 of unhealthy air in Seattle and even non asthmatic lungs are finally realizing how hard it is to breathe.

    Great post!

  2. Paulina says:

    One, we are lazy. We don’t walk or bike to work. Although probably true, it isn’t pcictaral/feasible for many to walk or bike. Two, we do not use our transit system. Cause it sucked for so long it’s actually useful now though and my kids have started to use it. Only takes 2 buses to get to the Leisure Centre.

  3. Kourtney says:

    You have more useful info than the British had colonies prWe-WII.

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