In the summer of 2008, the Chinese city of Beijing hosted the Olympic Games. The event has frequently been called the most polluted Olympics ever and many remember seeing the images of Beijing skyscrapers barely visible through a thick layer of hazy smog. What many Americans may not know, however, is that the same type of air pollution from Particulate Matter emissions has been linked to the premature deaths of many women and men right here in the United States.
According to a study published this year, more than 30,000 deaths in the United States in a single year may have been caused by exposure to Particulate Matter air pollution. The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS Medicine, examined deaths in 2015 to determine how many could be attributed to exposure to Particulate Matter air pollution. Researchers estimated that Particulate Matter pollution was responsible for the deaths of 15,612 women and 14,757 men in 2015 alone. The risk of premature death was greater in areas with lower income and higher poverty rates than in wealthier counties. Communities of color and communities where fewer residents had completed a high school education were also at greater risk.
What is Particulate Matter?
Particulate Matter is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets containing pollutants like dust, dirt, soot and smoke. The particles can include many different chemicals which are emitted primarily by power plants, industrial operations, and automobiles. Construction sites, unpaved roads, smokestacks, and fires are also sources of Particulate Matter. Particulate Matter pollution is also the culprit behind the haze and reduced visibility in cities and in other parts of the United States.
What are the health risks associated with Particulate Matter?
Exposure to Particulate Matter affects the heart and lungs and has been linked to many health problems, including:
- Premature death in people with heart or lung disease
- Nonfatal heart attacks
- Irregular heartbeat
- Aggravated asthma
- Decreased lung function
- Irritation of airways
- Difficulty breathing
Has the government put any restrictions on Particulate Matter emissions?
The federal government and U.S. EPA regulate and limit particulate matter emissions across the United States under the Clean Air Act. Alarmingly, however, the new study found that premature deaths linked to Particulate Matter emissions were consistent across counties that are in compliance with these Clean Air Act standards, suggesting that current federal regulations are not adequately protecting human health or the environment from the dangers associated with this pollution. The authors of the study agree that the science shows that if these standards were made more stringent and protective, it is very likely that tens of thousands of deaths could be delayed and Americans all over the country could live longer.
Unfortunately, however, Particulate Matter emissions have only gotten worse over the last few years. While Particulate Matter emissions declined by 24.4% from 2009 to 2016, they increased by 5.5% between 2016 and 2018. The 5.5% increase alone has been linked to an additional 9,700 premature deaths in 2018. Researchers have suggested that this spike in emissions could be due, in part, to the President Trump Administration’s decline in Clean Air Act enforcement and rollback of at least 24 different air pollution regulations and agreements.
What Can I Do to Protect My Family?
One step that families can take to reduce their exposure to Particulate Matter pollution is to visit the AirNow website at https://airnow.gov/. AirNow allows a user to see a map of the levels of Particulate Matter and other air pollution in their area. The map uses colors to indicate whether the levels are good, moderate, unhealthy, very unhealthy, hazardous and unhealthy for particularly sensitive groups (such as children and the elderly).
If you believe you or your loved ones have been impacted by Particulate Matter pollution, call the experienced environmental attorneys at The Collins Law Firm at (630) 527-1595. We are ready to fight on your behalf.