A study of 60 million Americans over the age of 65 estimates that thousands of people are still dying prematurely each year because they are breathing polluted air.
The study, conducted by researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said these premature deaths are occurring in areas where air pollution levels are lower than federal National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, said that even a modest reduction in what are known as PM2.5 pollution particles — those measuring less than 2.5 microns — could prevent about 12,000 premature deaths annually.
The researchers used data from federal air monitoring stations as well as satellites to compile a detailed picture of air pollution down to individual zip codes. Then, using data from 60 million Medicare patients, they analyzed the impact of air pollution on mortality. The study concluded that fine particulate matter appears to be especially dangerous for African-Americans, men, and poor people.
“We are now providing bullet-proof evidence that we are breathing harmful air,” said Francesca Dominici, a co-author of the paper and a professor of biostatistics at the Chan school. “It’s very … compelling evidence that currently the safety standards are not safe enough.”