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Air pollution causes millions of deaths each year: Why do we let it happen?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Smog kills: What action can you take?

Air pollution that is implicated for a number of health issues including cardiovascular disease, stroke and respiratory ailments is found in a new study to kill more than 2 million people annually. The question is why do we let it happen?

The finding, published in the Journal of Environmental Health, highlights the need for community and individual actions to protect human health that we should all take seriously.

Smog that comes from the ozone layer contributes to premature death from inhalation of fine particulate matter resulting in inflammation – the root cause of disease.

Researchers estimated mortality linked to air pollution using a mathematical model that calculated 470,000 people die each year from ozone produced by humans as the result of industrialization.

Lead study coauthor Jason West, an assistant professor of environmental science at the University of North Carolina said in a press release: "Many of these deaths are estimated to occur in East Asia and South Asia, where population is high and air pollution is severe."

The type of air pollution that is killing us is low in the ozone layer unlike the type high in the atmosphere from climate change. West explains air pollution that leads to premature death is not the result of global warming.

Fine particulate matter that is smaller than 2.5 microns in width, known as PM 2.5, is linked to lung cancer and respiratory diseases including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. The study authors estimate 2.1 million deaths have been caused by PM 2.5.

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The study authors say outdoor air pollution is one of the most important risk factors impacting human health. Taking action to reduce smog around the world would extend lifespan for some, West said.

Understanding that air pollution kills should make us to want to take action, yet there remains a high level of complacency.

The Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA ) offers tips to help minimize the impact of smog in your own community that include:

  • Carpooling
  • Ensuring your tires are properly inflated
  • Buying ENERGY STAR appliances and office equipment
  • Using public transportation
  • Stop using gas and wood stoves
  • Not burning leaves, trash and other materials
  • Conserving energy at home and at work
  • Consolidating errands to reduce the number of trips you take in your car
  • Keeping the thermostat at 78 degrees
  • Staying indoors when ozone levels are high
  • Avoiding gas powered lawn and other equipment

Other tips to protect lung health include avoiding tobacco, using non-toxic cleaning products, maintaining your heating and air conditioning units and maintaining a dust-free environment with good housekeeping practices.

If you are concerned about the newest report that includes lower estimates of deaths from air pollution than previous reports, make it a focus to stay active in your community to advocate for clean energy and ‘green’ industry.

Contact your local representatives, write your newspaper and let them know you are concerned. Vote for actions that will improve air quality in your area.

The L.A. Times recently reported Dutch scientists have invented a type of pavement that ‘eats’ smog. The study, published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, highlights how innovation can improve health and quality of life for people living in urban areas, such as burning bans.

Take action to protect the Clean Air Act that is estimated to save $2 trillion by 2020 and prevent at least 230,000 deaths annually. Consider supporting President Obama’s climate action plan to reduce carbon pollution from nuclear power plants.

The technology that uses paving blocks sprayed with titanium oxide reduced air pollution by 45 percent with ideal weather conditions and up to 19 percent over the course of one day.