Many Americans are breathing easier, thanks to significant drops in air pollution over the last quarter-century. That's the key conclusion of new research showing improvements in air quality since 1990 have led a whopping 35 percent reduction in deaths and disability tied to pollution from power plants, automobiles, and other sources.
"Some of the best news relative to the air pollution research over the last few years is the evidence that our reducing air pollution in the United States has resulted in measurable improvements in life expectancy and public health," said Arden Pope, a Brigham Young University economist who helped calculate the impacts of pollution reduction for the Journal of the American Medical Association "State of U.S. Health" report.
Pope's research tracked the health impacts of small pollution particles in the air — known as "particulate matter" — produced by combustion of car engines, power plants, and steel mills.
He and other scholars tracked a series of studies that found dirty air has a clear impact on hospital admissions, mortality rates, and cardiovascular disease — including the risk of heart attacks.
But tightened automobile emissions standards and cleaner manufacturing processes since 1990 have produced measureable reductions in such public health measures.
"One of the biggest surprises of this research was that air pollution contributed to cardiovascular disease and not just respiratory disease," Pope said. "In fact, we're learning that air pollution not only impacts our lungs but it impacts our heart and our brain."
Pope has previously estimated that every dollar spent on cutting air pollution leads to about $10 in savings from decreased healthcare, premature deaths, and other tangible health-related costs.
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