Study: Dirty air means early death

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Clean up polluted air and live longer; don't, and you'll die early. While researchers have suspected that parallel for a long time, now scientists at Harvard and Brigham Young universities have proven it in a sobering new study.

If we've ever had an incentive for cleaner air, this latest study should do the trick. In a two-decade analysis of 51 U.S. cities, Harvard and Brigham Young university scientists say we're living 2.72 years longer, and 15 percent of that increase is because we've cleaned up the air.

"You can think of this study as a large, nationwide natural experiment where we as a nation chose as matter of public policy to intervene in our air quality," said Dr. Arden Pope, with epidemiological research at BYU.

Pope says that paid off in New York and Pennsylvania, where over a period of 20 years, some of the worst pollution was cleaned up. The move substantially increased the life span in the Buffalo and Pittsburgh areas on the average of 10 months.

The numbers in Salt Lake were not quite that good, but then we didn't have as far to go as Pittsburgh. "Salt Lake City was sort of right in the middle. It had sort of average reductions in air pollution and sort of average increases in life expectancy," Pope explained.

The air quality, overall, across the country is better now than it was 20 years ago. But better isn't necessarily "better," because we're learning now about both short- and long-term effects of even moderate pollution.

For this study, researchers took smoking, demographics and socioeconomic factors into account, so the lifespan increases were based on the pollution models.


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