Though we all pretend that breathing in car exhaust or smoke is benign (really, what can you do?), it’s not. A study in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society looked at health data in the weeks following the disappearance of polluters, including mild ones like cars and cigarettes, and found immediate health gains:
- One week after Ireland enforced a public smoking ban, mortality dropped by 13%, and strokes, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease all dropped 26-38%.
- A yearlong closure of a Utah steel mill lowered missed school days by 40% and dropped daily mortality significantly.
- A 17-day ban of cars in downtown Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics corresponded with a 40% drop in children’s visits to asthma clinics, a 20% decrease in asthma hospitalizations, and a 10% decrease in ER visits.
“Air pollution affects nearly every organ in the body, causing or contributing to many illnesses,” write the authors.”Ambient air pollution is by far the most important environmental risk factor for morbidity and mortality, and household air pollution follows closely.”
These are, of course, correlations, not causations, though the myriad examples in the study are damning. “Air pollution is largely an avoidable health risk,” says lead author Dean Schraufnagel–if, that is, your local politicians take action. You can call them and tell them about this study here.