A 17-year longitudinal study by researchers at Duke University released in June shows that air pollution controls implemented in the early 1990s correspond with reductions in death rates from emphysema, asthma and pneumonia. The study, “Long-term dynamics of death rates of emphysema, asthma, and pneumonia and improving air quality,” was published in the June 23 issue of International Journal of COPD.

From 1993 to 2010, scientists analyzed North Carolina mortality trends (from public health data) and air-monitoring measurements (from monitors across the state) demonstrate the correlation between better air quality and lower death rates from those respiratory illnesses.

The senior author of the study, H. Kim Lyerly, MD, explained, €œThis research tends to show that environmental policies work, if the goal of those policies is not only to improve the environment, but also to improve health.€ Dr. Lyerly is professor of surgery, associate professor of pathology and assistant professor of immunology at Duke.

The research team specifically examined the 17-year period after new federal air pollution standards, designed to reduce emissions from cars, chemical plants and coal-fired power plants,  were put into effect. They controlled for other factors such as smoking and monthly fluctuations in air quality.

Science Daily describes the findings as follows:

“Among gaseous pollutants, reductions of sulfur dioxide levels showed significant correlation to lower death rates for emphysema, asthma and pneumonia; decreases in carbon monoxide were significantly associated with lower emphysema and asthma deaths. Fine particulates coincided with lower emphysema death rates, and reductions in a second particulate matter were associated with lower asthma deaths.”

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