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CLEAN AIR: Reducing air pollution extends lives

Fellowship Story Showcase

CLEAN AIR: Reducing air pollution extends lives

Picture of David Danelski

Air quality improvements have measurably improved life expectancy throughout the United States.

This report was produced in part with a grant from the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children's Health Journalism Fund, awarded by The California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.

Other articles in the series include:

AIR POLLUTION: Battle still on for clean air

POLLUTION: Microscopic particles can cause internal havoc

TRUCKING: A job opportunity for former dairyman

AIR QUALITY: Warehouse plan closely watched

CLEAN AIR: A promise still elusive for Inland region

HEALTH: Children are more vulnerable to air pollution effects


Ricky Hanna, CEO of EVI, speaks about the electric vehicles his company produces during a press conference at the UPS Distribution Facility in San Bernardino on Wednesday, July 17, 2013.
Ricky Hanna, CEO of EVI, speaks about the electric vehicles his company produces during a press conference at the UPS Distribution Facility in San Bernardino on Wednesday, July 17, 2013.
The Press-Enterprise
Thursday, September 5, 2013

Air quality improvements can be measured in human health.

Douglas Dockery, epidemiology department chair at Harvard University’s School of Public Health, was among the researchers who discovered that more people die on days when fine-particle pollution is high. The finding, made in the 1990s, helped persuade the Clinton administration to set clean-air standards for fine particles, despite industry objections about the potential costs.

In a recent interview, Dockery said he is upbeat about how overall health is improving as fine-particle levels drop in the nation’s urban areas.

In a paper published this year in the journal “Epidemiology,” Dockery and his colleagues found that people are living longer because of the reductions.

The researchers analyzed lifespan and pollution data from 2000 and 2007 gathered from 545 counties throughout the nation. They accounted for other factors such as cigarette smoking, demographics and socioeconomic status.

People on average lived four months longer when fine-particle pollution dropped by 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air. Since particle pollution is decreasing in Southern California, residents are enjoying longer lives, Dockery said.

Based on data from the South Coast Air Quality Management District and Dockery’s finding, Inland area residents could be living four to six months longer than the population did a decade ago.

Further pollution reductions would bring additional benefit, Dockery added.

His data also showed that when pollution levels dropped in areas that already meet federal health standards, people in those places lived longer, too.

One study found that cutting air pollution, in addition to improving health and longevity, also produced economic benefits.

In 2003, pollution controls were installed at coal-fired power plants in the East that greatly reduced nitrogen oxide emissions.

A collaboration among UC Santa Barbara and Massachusetts Institute of Technology economists tracked the air quality and various statistics, discovering that the improvements made a noticeable difference.

After five years, the number of days of unhealthful ozone pollution in 18 Eastern states declined by about 25 percent, and spending on prescription drugs dropped in those states by $900 million annually, the study found. Most of the savings were the result of lower demand for heart and respiratory medications.

They also found that people lived longer, boosting the Eastern states’ economies by $900 million annually.

This story originally ran in the Press-Enterprise on September 5, 2013.  Check out the story there.