No, a little smog is not benign—especially to older adults.
A giant new study out of Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health definitively correlates air pollution with early death.
Researchers looked at Medicare data for 97% of Americans over age 65, tracking them for 16 years, and cross referencing participants’ zip codes with fine particulate air pollution data (PM2.5). After controlling for factors such as obesity, smoking, income, and education, they ran the data through five different statistical approaches. All five analyses drew the same conclusion: Long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution likely causes premature the death.
Pivotally, the researchers write that today’s U.S. air quality standards are deadly. “The current standards aren’t protective enough,” says coauthor Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatistics at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. Lowering the PM2.5 standard to match the World Health Organization’s annual guideline of 10μg/m3 would drop mortality risk for Americans over age 65 by 6% to 7%, they say.