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Thousands of lives would be saved if ATS clean air standards are met

Thousands of lives would be saved each year, and many more serious illnesses avoided, if U.S. counties met standards set by the American Thoracic Society for the two most important air pollutants, according to a new report by the ATS and the Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University.

The ATS’s standards for ozone (O3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) are more protective than those adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If the ATS’s standards were met, each year in the U.S. approximately:

  • 6,270 lives would be saved,
  • 15,300 instances of serious illness would be avoided and
  • 12.7 million missed school and work days would be eliminated.

The “ATS and Marron Institute Report: Estimated Excess Morbidity and Mortality Associated with Air Pollution above ATS-Recommended Standards, 2013-2015” is published online in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

The new report builds on the two organizations’ 2016 “Health of the Air Report” by using the latest air quality data available. The latest report includes two new measures–short-term PM2.5 and lung cancer incidence–to give a clearer picture of how air pollution impacts health in the U.S.

Lead report author Kevin Cromar, director of the Air Quality Program at the Marron Institute and associate professor of population health and environmental medicine at the NYU School of Medicine, said, “Metropolitan areas and states with large populations and elevated concentrations of one or both air pollutants would realize the biggest improvements in public health by meeting the more protective standards.”

On a state-wide basis, California alone is responsible for half the total estimated deaths, while the next highest impacted states–Pennsylvania, Texas, Arizona, Michigan, Ohio, New York and New Jersey–contribute nearly 30 percent of the total mortality impact.

Photo credit: ATS

According to the authors, the study adopts the approach used by the EPA to determine air pollution levels.

“Air quality in the U.S. has benefitted from more protective federal standards in response to evidence from health studies, and there are likely further benefits to be gained by standards even lower than those now recommended by the ATS,” said ATS President Marc Moss, MD, who is Roger S. Mitchell Professor of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in a news release.

Dr. Moss added that extensive research has not identified an air pollution threshold below which there are no health benefits. “We would encourage cities that can improve their air quality further after meeting the ATS guidelines to do so. Their residents will live healthier lives,” he said.

A searchable online tool for city- and county-specific health estimates to aid in quality management decisions at the local level can be found at http://www.HealthoftheAir.org.

Photo credit: ATS & Pixource , pixabay

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