Another Not-So-Shocking Fact – Air Pollution Lowers Life Expectancy

 Ok, it’s not shocking that air pollution isn’t good for you. It can make you cough, wheeze, and maybe even get a headache. So, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that we know have scientific studies that validate our concerns about air pollution. Two of them stand out above the rest. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine titled, “Fine-Particulate Air Pollution and Life Expectancy in the United States” from January 2009, and a more recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences called, “Evidence on the impact of sustained exposure to air pollution on life expectancy from China’s Huai River policy.”

In the first study, fine particulate air pollution (2.5 micrometers in size or less) caused illnesses were compared for periods in the late 1970s and early 1980s with a matched data set from the late 1990s and early 2000s. A thorough statistical analysis showed that as the concentration of fine-particulates went down, so did the level of disease and mortality. While the decrease was mild, about ¼ year for every 10 μg per cubic meter that was reduced – it still showed a direct correlation. So, air quality was shown, conclusively to contribute to lifespan.

The second study, showed a distinct trend in China. This study showed that people living in Northern China, where coal pollution is the most concentrated, lived for 5.5 years less, on average, than their countrymen in the south. The study was made possible by the decision of the Chinese government to provide free coal for heating to anyone living north of the Huai River. The study covered the period from 1981 to 2000, since which time, pollution has actually gotten worse. At the time of the study, concentrations of particulate matter in the air were 55 percent higher north of the Huai than they were to the south.

Of course, whenever the question of air pollution comes up, there’s always that one guy who suggests that you just move out to the country. Here’s what you need to know about that. While the threat of air pollution is all around us, especially those of us who live in urban areas, the majority of air pollution actually happens inside our homes. The EPA found that indoor air pollution is between two and five times greater indoors than in the atmosphere outside.

The pollution can be from pollen brought into the house on clothing, chemical cleaners used in the home, volatile organic compounds off-gassed from furniture, paint, cosmetics, burning of natural gas and more. The best thing you can do to combat it is to crack open your windows regularly and air out your home. Another way to reduce indoor air pollution is to change your furnace air filter at least every three months. Again according to the EPA, a filter with a MERV rating between 7 and 13 is nearly as efficient as a HEPA filter by the third time that air is circulated through it. Doing these things will significantly reduce the amount of air pollution that you will inhale. Since cleaner air equals longer life and you can’t single handedly reduce outdoor pollution, starting with clean air in your home is your best bet.

What do you do to keep your home’s air clean? Are there tips you’d like to share?