HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Friday, January 23, 2009

Clean Air Lead to Longer Life

The Boston Globe reports on a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing that cleaner air in a number of our large cities has resulted in an average increase in life expectancy of five months.  --- writes,

Cuts in air pollution increased life expectancy an average of five months in Boston and dozens of other American cities in recent decades, a study from Harvard and Brigham Young universities strongly suggests.  The researchers looked at the amount of small-particle pollutants in 51 US cities - including Boston, Worcester, Springfield, and Providence - during the 1980s and '90s and found that the predicted lifespan increased most significantly in cities where air quality increased most dramatically.

The study, which appears in today's New England Journal of Medicine, signals that efforts to curtail the small, toxic particles spewed by power plants, factories, cars, and trucks and inhaled by city-dwellers had significant health benefits over those two decades. Several clean-air advocates and public health specialists said the results show that even stronger standards for air pollutants are needed.

"We had known with reasonable confidence for a while now that air pollution is bad for people's health," said Majid Ezzati, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and one of the study's authors. "The question still lingering was: Does lowering pollution have health benefits? The answer is yes." . . .

Other factors that have improved the predicted lifespan in recent decades range from medical advances, education, and income growth to changes in lifestyle, including healthier eating habits and quitting smoking.

Life expectancy does not directly indicate how long people live. Rather, it predicts how long the average person in a population would live if the death rate at a given time persisted for the person's lifetime. . . .

If cleaner air improves predicted lifespan, life expectancy has probably further increased in many parts of the nation during the past decade. Since 2000, air monitoring data show that the national average concentration of fine particles has decreased 11 percent, said Cathy Milbourn, spokeswoman for the US Environmental Protection Agency. . . .

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