What is often missing in the political debate over the environment is the direct cost of pollution on the health and lives of Americans. While the Bush Administration was attacking environmental regulations across the board, officials rarely acknowledged that the lower standard meant more children with asthma and earlier deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Indeed, most citizens fail to understand that pollution shortens their lives. They need to read this week’s issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.
The study found that the average drop in pollution seen across 51 metropolitan areas between 1980 and 2000 appears to have added nearly five more months to people’s lives. For example, Pittsburgh’s clearer air meant people there could expect to live nearly 10 months longer.
Long-term exposure to dirty air — specifically, the tiny specks known as fine-particulate air pollution — shortens lives and contributes to cardiovascular and lung disease.
This study reinforces earlier estimates on the health impact of smog, truck emissions, and other environmental problems. Indeed, some studies have suggested that a nonsmoker living in a polluted city has about the same risk of dying of heart disease as a former smoker.
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