Last updated on Jul 7th, 2020 at 02:16 pm

Research has found that air pollution – especially the kind related to climate change – can be as bad for our health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day…

We know that previous studies have shown a clear connection of air pollutants with some heart and lung diseases.

Now new research led by the University of Washington, Columbia University and the University at Buffalo has found that long-term exposure to all major air pollutants – especially ozone air pollution which is increasing with climate change – increases the progression of emphysema seen on lung scans.

The equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 29 years

“We were surprised to see how strong air pollution’s impact was on the progression of emphysema on lung scans, in the same league as the effects of cigarette smoking, which is by far the best-known cause of emphysema,” says the study’s senior co-author, Dr. Joel Kaufman, UW professor of environmental and occupational health sciences and epidemiology in the School of Public Health.

In fact, the researchers found, if the ambient ozone level was three parts per billion higher where you live compared to another location over 10 years, its associated with an increase in emphysema roughly the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 29 years.

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The results are based on an extensive, 18-year study involving more than 7 000 people and a detailed examination of the air pollution they encountered between 2000 and 2018 in six metropolitan regions across the U.S.

What’s causing the rise of ground-level ozone air pollution?

While most of the airborne pollutants are in decline because of successful efforts to reduce them, ozone has been increasing, the study found.

Ground-level ozone is mostly produced when ultraviolet light reacts with pollutants from fossil fuels (petrol/diesel/coal).

Air pollution increases causing chronic lung diseases to rise

“This is a big study with state-of-the-art analysis of more than 15 000 CT scans repeated on thousands of people over as long as 18 years. These findings matter since ground-level ozone levels are rising, and the amount of emphysema on CT scans predicts hospitalisation from and deaths due to chronic lung disease,” says Dr R. Graham Barr, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Columbia University who led the MESA Lung study and is a senior author of the paper.

Emphysema is a condition in which destruction of lung tissue leads to wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath, and increases the risk of death.

“As temperatures rise with climate change, ground-level ozone will continue to increase unless steps are taken to reduce this pollutant, says Dr Barr, adding that it’s not known what level of the air pollutants, if any, is safe for human health.

Source: University of Washington via

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