Air Pollution As Bad As Cigarettes

Air Pollution As Bad As Cigarettes

By Roy L Hales

Chronic lung disease rates are increasing. The University of Washington, Columbia University and the University at Buffalo have just published the results of an 18-year-long study made to determine why. They concluded that air pollution is as bad as cigarettes.

air pollution as bad as cigarettes

“We were surprised to see how strong air pollution’s impact was on the progression of emphysema on lung scans, in the same league as the effects of cigarette smoking, which is by far the best-known cause of emphysema,” said Dr. Joel Kaufman, one of the study’s senior authors and UW professor of environmental and occupational health sciences and epidemiology in the School of Public Health.

According to e -Medicine Health, “Emphysema is a long-term, progressive disease of the lungs that primarily causes shortness of breath due to over-inflation of the alveoli (air sacs in the lung).” The symptoms of emphysema are wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. It can be fatal.

A Global Problem

Air pollution is believed to cause around 21,000 premature Canadian deaths every year, roughly nine times the number of fatalities from automobile accidents.

According to the World Health Organization, 90% of our planet’s population breath polluted air every day. The industrial, transportation and agricultural sectors all contribute to the toxic mix, as do cookstoves and home heating.  Consequently, seven million people die “prematurely every year from diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart and lung disease.” 

While most fatalities in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific, the new study monitored CT scans from 7,000 participants in Chicago, Winston-Salem, N.C., Baltimore, Los Angeles, St. Paul, Minnesota, and New York.

Worsening With Climate Change

Kaufman writes, “Rates of chronic lung disease in this country are going up and increasingly it is recognized that this disease occurs in nonsmokers. We really need to understand what’s causing chronic lung disease, and it appears that air pollution exposures that are common and hard to avoid might be a major contributor.”

One of the study’s other senior authors, Dr. R. Graham Barr, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University, claims that “As temperatures rise with climate change. Ground-level ozone will continue to increase unless steps are taken to reduce this pollutant. But it’s not clear what level of the air pollutants, if any, is safe for human health.”

Top Photo credit: I Don’t Trust Air I Can’t See by Ron Reiring via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

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