A new study led by Prof. Mikael Skou Andersen of Aarhus University in Denmark finds that an increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter in air pollution reduces an individual’s life expectancy by between 9 and 11 years. This is more than previously thought, although there is a debate about the “economic value” of those years.(1)
“Economic value” translates into an estimate of the amount of spending that is economically justified to reduce air pollution. While life itself might have infinite value, no one wants to spend infinite money to preserve it. So we try to define how much money value there is in living to 90 as opposed to dying at 79. Under the theory, spending less than that money value to reduce air pollution is justified; spending more isn’t.
The challenge is that the European Union has set standards for air pollution reduction that some of its members are going to have difficulty meeting.
Needless to say, the European standards are more stringent than those in the US.
US rules: The US has standards for two types of particulate matter air pollution:
- PM10 : inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 10 micrometers and smaller. Maximum of 150 micrograms per cubic meter of air in any 24 hour period. This may be exceeded once per year on average over a three year period.
- PM2.5 : fine inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller.(2) While the goal is 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air, there may be readings of up to 35 micrograms per cubic meter in any 24 hour period.(3)
- PM10: 40 micrograms per cubic meter of air, although there may be readings of up to 50 micrograms in any 24 hour period.
- PM2.5 : 25 micrograms per cubic meter, no exceptions.
The difference in standards between the US and Europe exceeds the amount required to reduce life expectancy in Professor Andersen’s study. Life expectancy is greater in Europe than in the US. The residents of Monaco have a life expectancy that exceeds everyone else on Earth, and exceeds the US by more than 10 years.
What is 10 years of your life worth to you? Air pollution is yet another factor inflating US healthcare costs and the costs of your health insurance.
- Mikael Skou Andersen. Co-benefits of climate mitigation: Counting statistical lives or life-years? Ecological Indicators, 2017; 79: 11 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.03.051
- US Environmental Protection Agency, “Particulate Matter Pollution.” https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/particulate-matter-pm-basics
- US EPA, “NAAQS Table.” https://www.epa.gov/criteria-air-pollutants/naaqs-table
- European Commission, “Air Quality Standards.” http://ec.europa.eu/environment/air/quality/standards.htm
When you politicize science — or try to — you create new opportunities to waste taxpayer money.
The NIH has announced a new “National Action Plan” to combat COPD, the third leading cause of death in the US.
The third leading cause of death in the United States, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, affects 16 million Americans diagnosed with the disease and millions more who likely do not know they have it. The disease, which costs Americans more than $32 billion a year, can stifle a person’s ability to breathe, lead to long-term disability, and significantly affect quality of life. (1)
In building the action plan, NIH assembled workshops involving patients, medical professionals, academics, and pharmaceutical industry representatives.
That’s the problem.
COPD isn’t curable, but it may be preventable. However, to prevent it, you have to focus on causes, not treatments after the disease has developed. What are the causes?
- Smoking — 20 to 30% of smokers develop COPD according to the Mayo Clinic, although others may have reduced lung function (4)
- Long term exposure to industrial dust and chemical fumes (e.g., the famous “black lung” of coal miners)
- Long term exposure to air pollution
- Premature birth with lung damage
Some authorities try to put the entire blame for COPD on the cigarette industry. That’s a simple answer, and as usual with simple answers, it’s probably not correct. Mayo’s analysis is probably more prudent, splitting blame between cigarettes and environmental factors.
Here’s the issue:
- The workshops didn’t include representatives of the industries creating the pollution that causes COPD. Where are reps for the auto, power, chemical or cigarette industries?
- Further, the current administration has made a clear statement that environmental issues don’t matter.
We can anticipate that this initiative will focus on more expensive treatments instead of prevention. That simply drives healthcare costs higher without solving anything.
- National Institutes of Health, “COPD National Action Plan aims to reduce the burden of the third leading cause of death,” press release, 22 May 2017. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/copd-national-action-plan-aims-reduce-burden-third-leading-cause-death
- WebMD, “COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) – Causes,” undated. http://www.webmd.com/lung/copd/tc/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-copd-cause
- Ann Pietrangelo, “Everything You Need to Know About Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD),” Healthline, 25 October 2016. http://www.healthline.com/health/copd
- Mayo Clinic, “COPD – symptoms and causes,” undated. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/symptoms-causes/dxc-20204886
This is a remarkably good and balanced article on the migration path of the Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden and Finland) are taking toward carbon-free energy. Every change has winners and losers, and requires adjustment to new circumstances.
Benjamin K. Sovacool. Contestation, contingency, and justice in the Nordic low-carbon energy transition. Energy Policy, 2017; 102: 569 DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2016.12.045
Or alternatively, use this link. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301421516307091
The article is published by Elsevier and is available free to the public through a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.