Friday, October 3, 2008

The Air Study That “Stunned” Researchers



Researchers comparing air quality in six U.S. cities were “stunned” to learn “that people living in cities with the dirtiest air died on average two years earlier than residents of cities with the cleanest air. The difference in death rates was linked to elevated levels of fine-particle pollution.”

The tiniest air-born pollution particles are the most dangerous

Lung diseases like cancer, emphysema, fibrosis, and asthma are almost all initiated or aggravated by the inhalation of particles and gases, reports Joseph Brain, Drinker professor of environmental physiology at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH).

Children are the most vulnerable

The smallest air-borne particles are the ones that our lungs are least able to defend against. Infants and children are especially vulnerable. To describe the difference in an unforgettable way, imagine this scene, according to Rick Rogers, senior research scientist at HSPH:

“If a mom and her seven-year-old at a bus stop, stand in the wake of a departing bus’ burst of diesel exhaust, the child’s lungs will take in two and a half times the dose of particles as the mother’s. That startling effect is because of differences in surface to lung volume, metabolic rate, and activity.

Of course, any air pollution in the home will also have a much greater effect on children.

Fine particles in the air cause lung problems and heart attacks.

15 years into the six-city study researchers were surprised again. People were losing lung function, but what was killing them were cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and dysrhythmias. And it was fine particles from power plants and other combustion sources such as automobiles and home heating that showed the strongest associations with these deaths. This study is the most cited air-pollution paper in existence.


Prevent your children from losing lung capacity as they age.

The fine-particle lung damage to children worsens their lungs as they age. At first these fine particles cause “only” a small, yet permanent reduction in lung function. That's not so bad when they are young and have plenty of reserve lung capacity. But as they age, they will lose about 1 percent of their lung function per year (1.5 percent for smokers). After 50 years, in their early seventies, that’s a 50 percent reduction in lung capacity (75 percent in smokers).

Hint: It is never too soon to make the air cleaner where you have control over it – in your home. Look for air cleaning systems that also capture the most dangerous airborne particles – the tiniest ones.

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