The World Health Organization says air pollution is to blame for more than four million premature deaths globally. (blackday/Adobe Stock)

Study: Even Low Levels of Air Pollutants Linked to Early Death

Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service

INDIANAPOLIS – Air Quality Action Days are common in Indiana this time of year, and new research suggests they should not be disregarded. According to the largest-ever global study of its kind, air pollution can increase the risk of early death from cardiovascular and respiratory disease – even at low levels of exposure. 

Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, says the findings confirm the need to continue to pursue policies that will improve air quality.

“While the particulate levels have been reduced over time, they’re still pretty problematic,” says Kharbanda. “Particularly because science is telling us that it is these really micro particulates that can lodge very deep into people’s lungs and those can be quite damaging.”

The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that levels of particulate matter below the current air-quality guidelines and standards are still hazardous to public health. According to America’s Health Rankings, Indiana was ranked 44th for air pollution in 2018.

A recent Environmental Protection Agency report revealed that while overall air pollution is decreasing, some pollution indicators are on the rise – including ozone levels in some of Indiana’s industrial centers. 

Kharbanda says a major source of air pollution and particulate pollution comes from the state’s power sector.

“We’ve historically been very dependent on coal, being in the top five in terms of our coal consumption,” says Kharbanda. “And while there have been several transitions from coal to gas and, in some very rare cases, renewable energy, the scale of that transition needs to accelerate.”

Kharbanda encourages Hoosiers to get involved in utility rate cases and in Integrated Resource Planning processes to show their support for the need to accelerate the retirement of coal plants for the sake of public health. 

The World Health Organization estimates that more than four million premature deaths worldwide are due to air pollution.

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