A 5% increase in particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution was associated with 9,700 additional premature deaths across the United States, according to a study conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.
In the U.S, annual average levels of PM2.5 declined by 24% from 2009 – 2016 and then increased by 5% between 2016 – 2018.
To learn more about the impact that this increase had on public health, the researchers looked at data from the Air Quality System database of daily monitored readings provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
They studied 653 counties with monitors for fine PM2.5 and then also looked at information from the EPA’s enforcement database.
They found that this rise of PM2.5 increased the number of premature deaths of adults over the age of 30 by about 9,700 from 2016 to 2018, with 80% of the premature deaths occurring among the elderly.
By multiplying the deaths with the EPA’s statistical value of life, the researchers found that these deaths cost the economy $89bn.
The researchers have concluded that there are three possible causes for the national increase in PM2.5 pollution:
- Changes in economic activity – the increased use of natural gas in households and industries and growth in the number of miles travelled in fossil-fuel-powered vehicles likely contributed to the rise in PM2.5 in certain counties, while decreases in coal-fired power drove declines in other areas.
- Increases in wildfires – in parts of the West and Midwest, rising numbers of wildfires during this period were associated with increases in fine particulate matter.
- Decreases in the enforcement of the Clean Air Act – the researchers found that the most frequent type of enforcement of the Clean Air Act fell from 2009 to 2016 and continued to fall from 2016 to 2018.
Lead author of the study, Karen Clay, professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College, said: ‘The health implications of this increase are significant. The number of deaths and the damages highlight the importance of air pollution as an important and timely policy issue.’
Nicholas Muller, associate professor of economics, engineering, and public policy added: ‘This research demonstrates that recent increases in fine particulate matter have appreciable effects on risks of premature mortality.
‘These increases are worrisome and should persuade policymakers to take the necessary steps to maintain limits on air pollution.’
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