Pittsburgh: People with lung disease are more likely to die if they live in areas with higher levels of air pollution composed of chemicals associated with industrial sources and vehicular traffic, according to new research by scientists. The study was published in the journal, ‘JAMA Internal Medicine’.
Some people with these lung diseases have an expected lifespan from diagnosis to death of only a few years, and yet it’s a mystery as to why they developed the disease, why their lungs become so scarred,” said lead author Gillian Goobie, M.D., doctoral candidate in the Pitt School of Public Health’s Department of Human Genetics. “Our study points to air pollution – specifically pollutants from factories and vehicles – as potentially driving faster disease progression and premature death in these patients.
Ms Goobie and her team obtained data from 6,683 patients with fILDs in the U.S. and Canada and linked their home addresses with satellite and ground-monitoring air pollution data to determine air pollutant composition to an accuracy of less than half a mile.
The team specifically looked at a pollutant known as PM2.5, which refers to particulate matter that measures less than 2.5 microns across, a size invisible to the naked eye. This type of pollution is so small that it can infiltrate deep into the lungs and even cross into the blood stream, where it can contribute to other diseases outside of the lungs, such as heart disease.
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In the past, most environmental health research has focused on the simple definition of PM2.5 as anything of that size,” said co-author James Fabisiak, Ph.D., associate professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “But PM2.5 is chemically diverse, with a different composition depending on whether it came from a forest fire or a tailpipe. Research has lacked in determining if the type of PM2.5 matters when it comes to health effects. Our new research is a big step toward filling in that knowledge gap.
The team found that increasing levels of PM2.5 were linked to more severe disease at diagnosis, faster disease progression as measured by lung function decline and higher likelihood of dying sooner. Pollution high in sulfate (typically produced by factories, such as the coal and steel industries), nitrate (primarily from fossil fuel combustion) and ammonium (usually produced by industry or agriculture) were associated with worse outcomes, whereas chemical signatures from more naturally occurring particulate matter – such as sea salt or soil dust – didn’t carry as high of an association.
After pollution leaves a smokestack or tailpipe, Goobie noted that sulfate- and nitrate-containing aerosols can be formed in the atmosphere from those and other gaseous pollutants and can be acidic, which can be very damaging to the tiny air sacs of the lungs.
The team is now doing laboratory studies looking at the impact of these pollutants on lung cells at the molecular level to better understand why they are particularly damaging to the lungs of certain people and whether exposure to the pollutants triggers changes to how certain genes work that could cause runaway scarring.
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According to the team’s calculations, if exposure to industrial pollutants hadn’t occurred, most premature deaths among participants living in areas of North America with a heavier burden of industry – including Pittsburgh – could have been avoided. Participants of color were disproportionately exposed to higher levels of man-made air pollutants: 13% of the high-exposure group were non-white, but only 8 per cent of the low-exposure group, highlighting the impact of environmental injustice in these findings as well.
Co-senior author S. Mehdi Nouraie, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pulmonary, allergy and critical care medicine at Pitt’s School of Medicine, said that the findings further emphasize the need for people with lung conditions that make them more vulnerable to pollution to pay attention to the air quality index – a forecast of air pollution – and consider minimizing time outdoors or in rooms without good air filtration during poor air quality days.
Ultimately, we want to encourage a data-driven awareness, Ms Nouraie said. We want people to think about the quality of the air we breathe. Patients, healthcare providers and policymakers can all use the new information we’re providing to try to improve health outcomes. When you make the air safe for the most vulnerable to breathe, you’re making it safe for all of us.
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(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.