Newspaper article

Air Pollution May Damage Every Organ in the Human Body, Research Review Finds

Newspaper article

Air Pollution May Damage Every Organ in the Human Body, Research Review Finds

Article excerpt

Maybe you saw a headline on this, because it made some big ones on Monday: The Trump-transformed Environmental Protection Agency is cooking the books —I mean, refining its calculations — on air pollution’s lethal harm to Americans.

As reported by the New York Time’s Lisa Friedman, the “new analytical model” will reduce the official estimate of deaths attributable to inhaling fine soot particles from smokestacks and vehicle exhausts by 1,400 per year.

That’s the direct effect. An indirect effect, and the transparent purpose, of the change is to justify a rollback of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan into a set of less stringent requirements (not the first time the new regime has attempted to reshape policy by re-doing the math). The result will be marketed as the Affordable Clean Energy Rule, due for rollout in June.

As it happens, this news broke only days after publication of a new and sweeping analysis of health damage traceable to air pollution, prepared by actual medical experts for CHEST, the official journal of the American College of Chest Physicians. They reach the startling conclusion that emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, fine particulates especially, are likely to damage just about every organ in the human body.

Livers and kidneys, that is. Skin and eyes. Joints and bones. The bladder, brain and pancreas. Also, particulate exposure appears to cause or aggravate systemwide problems of allergy, inflammation and autoimmune disorder, not to mention developmental problems in children.

The largest portion of medical research on airborne pollutants has long focused, understandably, on the tissues they touch directly, like the lungs, and others whose function is closely related to respiration, like the heart. But less heralded inquiry has found clear correlations between fossil-fuel pollution and disease across a far wider spectrum. The new, two-part paper pulls these together into a groundbreaking, comprehensive portrait that is causing considerable buzz in public-health circles.

The lead researcher, pulmonologist Dean Schraufnagel of the University of Illinois-Chicago, told the UK Guardian that he himself was surprised at the breadth of harm laid out in CHEST. Any organs unmentioned in the report aren’t at all in the clear, he said; rather, it’s safe to assume their absence is “probably because there was no research yet.”

Sample impacts gathered by the Schraufnagel team:

* Osteoporosis-related fractures in Medicare-aged Americans were more common in areas with higher particulate exposures; in middle-aged people, high exposures are associated with mineral loss from their bones.

* Liver impacts include unusual cancers, various inflammatory conditions, and the incurable buildup of fat deposits known as steatosis.

* In the kidneys, “oxidative stress” correlated with exposure to particulates and diesel exhaust damages both large and small blood vessels; in people whose kidneys are already diseased, the stress “exacerbates chronic renal failure.”

* Bad air can make the eyes water, of course, but beyond the various irritations and inflammations associated with sulfur and nitrogen oxides as well as ozone, exposure to fine particles has been linked cataract formation.

* Chronic exposure to those oxides were shown in a UK study to raise the odds of Crohn’s disease afflicting the intestines of young people; elsewhere, it has been linked to inflammatory bowel disease, enteritis, gastric ulcer and appendicitis.

* Among blood diseases, fine particles have been shown to promote “an imbalanced coagulative state” that interferes with normal clotting in ways that increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

As for the brain and central nervous system:

Older adults more heavily exposed to air pollution perform more poorly on cognitive testing and are at increased risk of dementia compared with less exposed adults. Long-term exposure to PM 2. …

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