- Improvements in air quality in the past decade have significantly reduced mortality rates in the U.S. caused by air pollution, but this trend has slightly slowed in recent years.
- Death rates associated with air pollution fell by around 43% between 2010 and 2017, from 12,600 deaths to 7,140.
- Death rates due to soot pollution saw a dramatic decrease, while those due to ozone pollution have remained fairly constant over the years.
- Climate change and shifts in weather patterns could potentially worsen air quality, notably due to increased wildfires causing a rise in particle pollution.
- The threat of climate change combined with recent regulatory changes could expose more lives to the risks of poor air quality.
In the past decade, vital yet unequal enhancements in the quality of air have drastically cut down the mortality rates in the U.S caused by air pollution, according to recent research.
However, experts raise concerns about the combined threats of climate change and the reversal in regulations under the previous government which could result in the nullification of the attained progress and expose more lives yearly to the hazards of poor air quality.
A Fading Trend
Kevin Cromar, the chief investigator and associate professor of population health and environmental medicine at a prominent university in New York City, observed that this trend has somewhat slackened in recent times. “If we yearn for prolongation in these enhancements, these regulatory relapses are driving us off course,” he asserted.
Generally, there has been a substantial decrease in deaths associated with air pollution with a reduction of around 43% – a decline from approximately 12,600 deaths in 2010 to 7,140 in 2017 as indicated by Cromar and his colleagues.
The Main Culprits
When focusing on the two primary contributors to air pollution, specifically soot and ozone, the narrative becomes a bit complex. Deaths attributed to airborne soot, also known as fine particle pollution, witnessed a drastic drop by over half between 2010 and 2017, declining from 8,330 to 3,260. “We have witnessed substantial betterments concerning the health impacts of particle pollution. That signifies actual advancement,” Cromar highlighted.
Conversely, deaths caused by smog, or ozone pollution, have remained fairly steady over the years. There were 4,270 deaths in 2010, compared to 3,880 in 2017.
Understanding the Challenge
Particle pollution has been easier to manage as soot arises from identifiable sources that can be directly addressed, according to Cromar. “We comprehend those processes quite well, so we understand which emissions we can control that lead to lower levels of particle pollution. Handling it is comparatively straightforward,” he stated.
Ozone proves to be more challenging as it is produced by the interaction of sunlight and heat with gaseous emissions from industries and vehicles. “The chemistry and management are complex,” Cromar remarked.
Climate Change Worsens Air Quality
Regrettably, due to climate change-induced shifts in weather patterns and temperatures, air quality is likely to deteriorate, warn experts. Increased occurrence of wildfires fostered by heat and dry weather conditions have led to a significant rise in particle pollution within some regions, particularly along the West Coast.
The Regulatory Challenge
In addition to the natural challenges, recent efforts to slow down advancements in emission controls from automobiles and power plants have been concerning, according to both Cromar and Dr. David Hill from a national board of directors of a Lung Association.
Hill further noted that even if pollution levels remain stagnant, the mortality rates will continue to rise due to population growth in the U.S. “Improvements are mandatory to retain the status quo. If the levels of pollution persist, yet the population is on the rise, we will observe an increase in health impacts over time due to heightened exposure. It’s akin to having to run to stay in place,” he explained.
Recently, it was announced that many locations are failing to meet the national ambient air quality standard for ozone. States that fail to display improvement within the next three years will be obligated to formulate a plan to attain the standard.
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