The Journal of the American Medical Association published a study confirming that prolonged exposure to air polluted with particulate matter significantly raises the risk of dying with lung cancer or other lung and heart diseases. The study followed 500,000 people in 116 U.S. cities since 1982.
The authors stated that many city residents face a long-term risk of fatal lung cancer similar to someone living with a smoker. Because lung cancer is rare among non-smokers, that adds only two additional fatalities for every 100,000 people, according to a leader of the research project, Dr. George D. Thurston, associate professor of environmental medicine at the New York University School of Medicine. Thurston added that the study's results can explain lung cancer fatalities which have had no other identifiable cause.
The finding provides more data in a growing body of evidence that fine particulate matter, which comes from fossil-fired power plants and automobiles, is a dangerous pollutant. A private research firm that does work for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that as many as 30,100 deaths per year are related to power plant emissions.
The EPA has drafted rules to regulate fine particulate matter. The regulations could take effect in late 2003, following a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the EPA's right to issue a fine particulate standard, in lawsuits brought by the power industry and by vehicle manufacturers and operators.
The adults who participated in the study were recruited by the American Cancer Society for a lifelong project tracking their lifestyles, diets, work conditions and, ultimately, causes of death.
"One study alone doesn't answer these questions, but it opens the door wider on the issue of lung cancer and pollution," said Daniel S. Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, a pollution research group in Boston that is financed by the EPA and manufacturing industries.
Dr. Thurston, co-author of the new study, held out hope that the study would prompt quick action: "The bad news is that fine-particle air pollution is even more toxic than we thought before," he said. "The good news is we are addressing this problem and there are ways we can further reduce this risk, by moving forward with the Clean Air Act and cleaning up these power plants that are a major source."
Written by: American Medical Association
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