Cleaner Air is Helping Americans Live Longer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A team of researchers at Brigham Young University and Harvard School of Public Health has determined that cleaner air is helping us live longer. The scientists analyzed data between 1980 to approximately 2000, analyzing the life expectancies of residents in 51 cities, and changes in air quality.

Cleaner air was found help people live ten months longer in cities that needed (and made) the most drastic clean-ups. Past studies have shown that air pollution significantly affects the health of our blood vessels. The current study authors believe cleaner air is helping to curb heart and lung disease. Americans are living 2.72 years longer, according to the end-result of twenty-year study, and 15 percent, of the increase has occurred as the result of cleaner air.

The scientists were amazed to find the impact on life expectancy as the result of cleaner air. C. Arden Pope III, a BYU epidemiologist and lead author on the study published in the Jan. 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine says, "Such a significant increase in life expectancy attributable to reducing air pollution is remarkable." Pope says, not only are we improving the environment, but cleaner air is also "improving our public health".

The effect of air pollution on cardiovascular health has been an area of focus from the American College of Cardiology. A study, published Sept. 2008 in heartwire, showed that lack of clean air in our cities contributes to heart attacks.

Senior author of last year's study, Dr. Diane Gold, from Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Ma, said, "We're focusing on patients right after they've been in the hospital for myocardial infarction and acute coronary syndrome. They've received state-of-the-art care, and we're finding subclinical effects of air pollution, with effects being strong in the first month or so after discharge. It adds to the evidence that traffic and non-traffic air pollution increases cardiac risk.


Last August, the American College of Cardiology issued an air pollution statement that concluded,"The major strategy in decreasing the harmful effects of air pollution is the reduction of air pollutants themselves".

Co-author of the study, Douglas Dockery, chair of the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard School of Public Health says, "There is an important positive message here that the efforts to reduce particulate air pollution concentrations in the United States over the past 20 years have led to substantial and measurable improvements in life expectancy."

Some may remember the slight controversy regarding findings from the NRC in April 2008, when they completed their analysis, advising our government that smog "is likely to contribute to premature deaths." At that time, the API suggested, "The findings contradict arguments made by some White House officials that the connection between smog and premature death has not been shown sufficiently and that the number of saved lives should not be calculated in determining clean-air benefits."

We now see that cleaner air does have a significant effect on our lives. Interestingly, most cities have maintained clean air guidelines determined as acceptable by EPA standards – nevertheless, cleaner air is measurably helping us live longer.

BYU-Harvard SPH study shows that Americans owe five months of their lives to cleaner air