Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The Connection Between Cleaner Air and Longer Lives

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The reason the criminal fraud VW committed is so important that it killed people. Kevin Drum, using available data, estimates the death toll from the higher pollution of 11,000,000 cars to be 4,000 worldwide. (One hopes that’s high enough to trigger criminal prosecutions of individuals responsible; recall that GM’s concealing the problem defective ignition switch caused 153 deaths according to Reuters, and not only were no GM employees prosecuted, the company itself got what amounts to probation. So car companies have to kill many people for individuals to be held responsible for committing a crime. Usually the company can simply write a check, though to be sure the amount of the check may be relatively large.

But did the pollution actually kill people—that is, caused them to die before they otherwise would have? Yes, according to this article in the NY Times by Michael Greenstone:

Back in 1970, Los Angeles was known as the smog capital of the world — a notorious example of industrialization largely unfettered by regard for health or the environment. Heavy pollution drove up respiratory and heart problems and shortened lives.

But 1970 was also the year the environmental movement held the firstEarth Day and when, 45 years ago this month, Congress passed a powerful update of the Clean Air Act. (Soon after, it was signed by President Richard Nixon, and it was followed by the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency and passage of the Clean Water Act, making him one of the most important, though underappreciated, environmentalists in American history.)

Since that time, the Clean Air Act has repeatedly been challenged as costly and unnecessary. As a fight brews over President Obama’s new use of the law to address global warming, it’s worth re-examining the vast differencethe law has already made in the quality of the air we breathe, and in the length of our lives.

Numerous studies have found that the Clean Air Act has substantially improved air quality and averted tens of thousands of premature deathsfrom heart and respiratory disease. Here, I offer new estimates of the gains in life expectancy due to the improvement in air quality since 1970 — based on observations from the current “smog capital” of the world, China. (To learn more about how this was calculated, click here.)

For several decades starting in the 1950s, China’s government gave residents in the northern half of the country free coal for winter heating, effectively creating a natural experiment in the health impact of pollution. My colleagues and I recently compared pollution and mortality rates between the north south of China and calculated the toll of airborne particulate matter, widely believed to be the most harmful form of air pollution, on life expectancy.

Applying that formula to E.P.A. particulate data from 1970 to 2012 yields striking results for American cities.

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 4.15.14 PM

In Los Angeles, particulate pollution has declined by more than half since 1970. The average Angeleno lives about a year and eight months longer. Residents of New York and Chicago have gained about two years on average. With more than 42 million people currently living in these three metropolitan areas, the total gains in life expectancy add up quickly.

But some of the greatest improvements occurred in smaller towns and cities where heavy industries appeared to operate with few restrictions on pollution.

In 1970, the Weirton, W.Va.–Steubenville, Ohio, metropolitan area had particulate concentrations similar to current-day Beijing. A child born there today can expect to live about five years longer than one born in 1970.

More than 200 million people currently live in places monitored for particulates in 1970 and today. (The E.P.A. focuses on the most heavily populated or polluted areas of the country, which is why these calculations exclude approximately 115 million people.) On average, these people can expect to live an additional 1.6 years, for a total gain of more than 336 million life-years. . .

Continue reading.

VW really was responsible for killing people; we just don’t know which ones.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 September 2015 at 4:18 pm

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