Continued exposure to air pollution has been linked to a whole host of diseases from pulmonary ailments to brain-related ones in people of all ages. It follows then that reducing exposure to toxic air should have health benefits. And indeed that is what the authors of a new study have found.
In fact, say the researchers from the Environmental Committee of the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS), the health benefits can be quite dramatic. “Reducing pollution at its source can have a rapid and substantial impact on health,” they explain in the paper published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.
“Within a few weeks, respiratory and irritation symptoms, such as shortness of breath, cough, phlegm, and sore throat, disappear; school absenteeism, clinic visits, hospitalizations, premature births, cardiovascular illness and death, and all-cause mortality decrease significantly,” they elucidate.
They reached this conclusion after reviewing the results of various interventions worldwide that have served to reduce the extent of air pollution at its source. They then evaluated the outcomes and examined how long they took to manifest themselves. The results were eye-opening.
In Ireland, for instance, during the early stages of a ban on smoking the health benefits included a 13% drop in all-cause mortality, a 26% drop in the rate of ischemic heart disease, a 32% drop in the number of strokes, and a 38% drop in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Not only that but nonsmokers also greatly benefited from the ban on smoking. Perhaps that should come as no surprise as secondhand smoking has been known to have adverse health effects for nonsmokers who are exposed to cigarette smoke.
Meanwhile, a 13-month-long closure of a steel mill in Utah, in the United States, led to a state of affairs whereby hospitalizations for pneumonia, pleurisy, bronchitis and asthma were halved. The daily mortality fell by 16% for every 100 μg/m3 PM10 (a pollutant) decrease. Pregnant women were less likely to have premature births while school absenteeism by children also decreased by 40%.
In Nigeria, where indoor cooking has long been a health hazard, especially for poor families, in families that reduced indoor air pollution at home by using clean cook stoves pregnant more women gave birth to children with higher birthweights, experienced greater gestational age at delivery, and had less perinatal mortality, the researchers say.
“We knew there were benefits from pollution control, but the magnitude and relatively short time duration to accomplish them were impressive,” said Dean Schraufnagel, a physician who was the report’s lead author. “Our findings indicate almost immediate and substantial effects on health outcomes followed reduced exposure to air pollution. It’s critical that governments adopt and enforce WHO guidelines for air pollution immediately.”
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