RESPIRATORY HEALTH

Improved air quality control could save thousands of lives, prevent sick days

(AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

(AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

In one year, there could be about 9,320 fewer deaths and 19 million fewer sick days if  the American Thoracic Society’s (ATS) recommended air quality standards are implemented, a report released Wednesday suggests. A group of scientists from New York University and the Marron Institute of Urban Management argue in a new paper that improving air quality standards to a level even stricter than those issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could dramatically improve the nation’s health.

As well as fewer deaths, higher standards may result in about 21,400 fewer major health crises, like hospitalizations or heart attacks, in a year, Medical Daily reported.

The organization’s “Health of the Air” report ranked 30 U.S. cities with the most potential health benefits to gain from meeting ATS standards, and calculated that California accounted for 37 percent of the extra deaths and other health problems. Los Angeles alone would avoid 1,341 deaths and prevent nearly 3 million sick days.                          

ATS worked with researchers on the report, which analyzed nationwide air quality data from 2011 to 2013, specifically focusing on ozone and fine-particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter— two major sources of pollution.

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Ozone pollution posed the biggest threat to health risks, Medical Daily reported.

Even marginally cleaner air would improve the population’s health. According to a separate analysis by the team, if every county reduced its ozone levels below the EPA standard, there would be 2,650 fewer deaths and 7.5 million fewer sick days.

Study authors noted that, because they only analyzed two of the six major sources of pollution tracked by the EPA, the savings to people’s wellbeing could be even higher.

"As an organization of health care providers and researchers, we know firsthand the toll air pollution takes on people's health, particularly the young and elderly," said Dr. David Gozal, ATS President and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago, according to Medical Daily. "This report begins to quantify that toll and provides information that, we believe, should inform the setting of national air pollution standards."