A new US study has shown that even with the existing rules, tens of thousands of extra deaths occur in the US each year due to pollution.
Researchers used 12 years of data - health records from around 61 million Medicare beneficiaries, combined with a massive databank of pollution readings as they sought to associate specific air quality levels to death rates.
They uncovered that for every increase of only 10 micrograms in small-particle pollution known as PM2.5, the death rate shot up 7.3 per cent, which was the equivalent of 120,000 fatalities among people aged 65 and older, lead author Qian Di of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston told Reuters Health in a telephone interview.
For every 10 part-per-billion increase in ozone concentration, the mortality rate increased by 1.1 per cent, which led to an extra 19,000 deaths just among the elderly.
Even when concentrations in a region were low, "we continued to see significant associations between exposure and mortality," Di and his colleagues write in the New England Journal of Medicine.
They concluded that the current US rules were not strict enough to prevent pollution-related deaths and further reductions in pollution will produce a big drop in fatalities.
"We are now providing bullet-proof evidence that we are breathing harmful air," says Francesca Dominici, a professor of biostatistics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who led the study, www. npr.org reported. "Our air is contaminated."
According to their analysis about 12,000 lives could be saved each year, by cutting the level of fine particulate matter nationwide by just 1 microgram per cubic meter of air below current standards.
"It's very strong, compelling evidence that currently, the safety standards are not safe enough," Dominici said.
The researchers found that fine particulate matter, basically, tiny particles of dust and soot appeared to be especially dangerous for African-Americans, men and poor people.