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Urban Air Clean-Ups Save Lives

Ridding skies of particulate matter cuts heart, respiratory deaths, study finds

WEDNESDAY, March 15, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Cutting down on fine particulate matter in city air can be a real lifesaver, a new study finds.

"This reduction was observed specifically for deaths due to cardiovascular and respiratory disease and not from lung cancer," researcher Francine Laden, of Channing Laboratory in Boston, said in a prepared statement.

The original study -- called the Harvard Six Cities study -- was conducted from 1979 to 1990. It identified an association between fine particulate air pollution and death risk. This new study extended that work to the years 1990 to 1998.

The study participants included nearly 8,100 residents of a number of American towns, including Watertown, Mass.; Kingston and Harriman, Tenn.; St. Louis, Mo.; Steubenville, Ohio; Portage, Wyocena and Pardeeville, Wisc.; and Topeka, Kan. The participants averaged 50 years of age at the start of the original study.

The new study found that the largest drops in adjusted death rates were in cities with the greatest reductions in fine particulate matter air pollution.

While deaths linked to heart disease and respiratory illness dropped along with pollutant levels, lung cancer deaths did not, probably because lung cancer is "a disease with a longer latency period and less reversibility," according to Laden.

During the eight-year study period, the annual mean concentration of fine particulates declined by 7 micrograms per cubic meter of air per decade in Steubenville; by 5 micrograms in St. Louis; by 3 micrograms in Watertown; by 2 micrograms in Harriman; by 1 milligram in Portage; and by less than a microgram in Topeka.

The findings appear in the March issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about air pollution and health.

SOURCE: American Thoracic Society, news release, March 15, 2006
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