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Increasing Air Pollution Causes Lung Disease Equivalent to Smoking Pack of Cigarettes a Day for 29 Years


(Newsweek) – The rise in global air pollution, in part due to warming average temperatures, can increase the risk of lung disease as much as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for nearly three decades, a new study from researchers at the University of Washington, Columbia University and the University at Buffalo has found.

Researchers concluded that air pollution, and especially pollution from ozone, accelerates the incidence of emphysema, a condition where the fine air sacs embedded in the lungs start to deteriorate, preventing oxygen from properly entering the bloodstream.

Over a 10-year time span, if ozone levels in a city are just three parts per billion higher than a comparable city with no ozone increase, that increases a person’s risk of emphysema as much as if they had smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, every day, for 29 years, according to the study.

“We were surprised to see how strong air pollution’s impact was on the progression of emphysema on lung scans, in the same league as the effects of cigarette smoking, which is by far the best-known cause of emphysema,” Dr. Joel Kaufman, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences and epidemiology at the University of Washington, said in a statement. “Rates of chronic lung disease in this country are going up and increasingly it is recognized that this disease occurs in nonsmokers. We really need to understand what’s causing chronic lung disease, and it appears that air pollution exposures that are common and hard to avoid might be a major contributor.”

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