According to a recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, particulate matter known as PM 2.5, a common form of air pollution from tailpipe emissions and power plants, increases our risk of dying from heart disease by nearly 10 percent. And this number is only accurate for communities that abide by federal air standards. Can you imagine what the statistic is for the remaining communities? According to the American Lung Association’s 2015 State of the Air report, and as Newsweek points out below, "around 44 percent of people in the United States live in counties that have "unhealthful levels" of either long-term or short-term ozone or particulate matter pollution. This means many, many people in the U.S. are exposed to levels of particulate matter far exceeding the EPA’s limits—and are at a higher-than-normal risk for early death from heart disease or other pollution-related causes." Not only do health professionals have every right to be involved in local and federal discussions on such matters that affect patients and their communities, but we have an obligation to do so.
By Zoë Schlanger I September 16, 2015
Air pollution is a killer. And right now, the U.S. government’s standards for acceptable air pollution exposure permit enough of it to significantly increase one’s risk of early death, especially from heart disease, according to the results of a large study released Tuesday.
The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, found that chronic exposure to 10 micrograms per cubic meter of particulate matter known as PM 2.5—one of the most ubiquitous forms of air pollution—increases the likelihood that a person will die an early death by roughly 3 percent, after controlling for all other causes. What’s more, that level of exposure increases the risk that a person will die of heart disease by roughly 10 percent.
But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permits annual exposure of up to 12 micrograms per cubic meter of PM 2.5—pollution particles that spew from car tailpipes, power plants and just about every other source that burns fuel, as well from any crushing or grinding operation that produces dust. With a diameter smaller than 2.5 microns (a micron is one-millionth of a meter; 2.5 of them is about one-thirtieth of the width of a human hair), these particles are so small that they can penetrate deep into the lungs. The EPA has linked exposure to them to early death, cardiovascular diseases and a range of respiratory illnesses.
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