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Doctors are studying the effects of air pollution on older people
Increasing air pollution in most countries naturally has a negative impact on the health of the people living there. Researchers have now found that the influence of polluted air has a massive impact on the mortality rate of the older population. Older adults are more likely to die on days when air pollution increases, even if the pollutant levels are still below what is actually considered safe, the scientists report.
The researchers at the internationally recognized Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston found that older people are more likely to die on days with increased air pollution. This effect can be observed even if the actually safe limit values for the pollutant values are not exceeded. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "JAMA".
Doctors analyze 22 million deaths
The experts examined around 22 million deaths for their study. They wanted to find out whether there is a connection between deaths and fluctuations in daily ozone concentrations. Most deaths occurred on days when the levels of ozone and PM 2.5 particulate matter were below the limits set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Negative effects do not only take place in cities
Previous studies had already linked air pollution to an increased risk of chronic health problems and premature death. However, these studies focused on cities, explains author Dr. Joel Schwartz from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The doctors wanted to find out whether this effect also occurs in small towns, villages and rural areas. The results of the study clearly showed that air pollution has the same effects in such areas, not just in the big cities.
What was the impact of air pollution?
The study focused on deaths between 2000 and 2012. Physicians compared satellite data with daily PM 2.5 and ozone levels from the days people died in certain areas to the air quality levels on another day within one or two Weeks after each death. The scientists were able to determine that about 95 percent of the deaths occurred on days when the PM values were below the EPA standards. On 91 percent of the days examined, the ozone levels were below 60 ppb and 93 percent of the deaths occurred on these days, the researchers say.
Even if the air quality actually still met EPA standards, every increase in PM 2.5 values by 10 μg / m3 was associated with an increase of 1.42 deaths per day per million people, the scientists explain. Each 10 ppb increase in daily ozone levels was also associated with 0.66 more deaths per million people. The increased risk of death associated with daily PM 2.5 and ozone peaks persisted, even though the researchers limited their analysis to days when air quality met EPA standards.
Older and sick people are particularly at risk
Inhaling polluted air can endanger the respiratory tract and lead to functional impairments, similar to asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. These so-called exacerbations may not have serious consequences in children or adolescents, but they can even lead to death in older people and very sick people who already have difficulty breathing.
People in rural areas are also at risk
Aside from a lack of data on young people, another limitation of the study is the lack of data on long-term pollution from the air, the authors say. Still, people should be aware of the health effects of air pollution, even if they don't live in urban areas where traffic and smog pose a known health risk, the experts advise. Even if people live in rural areas with relatively low levels of air pollution, health problems can arise on certain days with higher levels of air pollution due to poor weather conditions. People can also be exposed to higher levels of exposure if they spend time near roads or diesel-powered equipment. (as)