America’s air: In a state of unhealthy repair?

20130828172057-0[1] (340x192)There are known human health impacts due to poor air quality.

Among these may be, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board (ARB), coughing, tightness in the chest, asthma, cancer and premature death.

For common air pollutants such as particulate matter (soot), ozone (O3) and others, the ARB provides detailed “Health Effects” data.

For particulate matter, which ARB defines as: “PM2.5 and PM10: less than or equal to 2.5 or 10 microns [in diameter], respectively, health impacts may include:

  • Hospitalizations for worsened heart disease
  • Emergency room visits for asthma
  • Premature death

For Ozone (O3), health impacts may include:

  • Cough, chest tightness
  • Difficulty taking a deep breath
  • Worsened asthma symptoms
  • Lung inflammation

(Source: “ARB Fact Sheet: Air Pollution and Health,” California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board, page reviewed Dec. 2, 2009,

In America, the scope of the problem is huge. How huge?

In the McClatchy Newspapers article: “Report looks at hidden health costs of energy production,” correspondent Renee Schoof wrote: “Total early deaths were about 18,000 to 19,000 per year, said … Daniel Greenbaum, the president of the Health Effects Institute in Boston, a nonprofit organization that researches the effects of air pollution on health.”

Meanwhile, one finding of a more recent study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is that there is a total American air-pollution-related premature death rate of approximately 200,000 annually, with around 21,000, or roughly 10 percent, in the state of California alone.

“Emissions from road transportation are the most significant contributor, causing 53,000 premature deaths, followed closely by power generation, with 52,000,” an MIT news release “Study: Air pollution causes 200,000 early deaths each year in the U.S.” brought to bear.

Worldwide, the estimate is 3.2 million such early deaths (in 2010). This was up from 800,000 in 2000.

While, at one point, the overarching mission may have been to connect the air pollution “cause-and-effect dots” together, that, I believe, is no longer the case. From my point of view there is no question implementation of corrective steps has to take precedence if air is to break free of pollution’s grip once and for all.

Image above: Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

– Alan Kandel