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JAMA Links Air Pollution to Death Rates in 95 U.S. Cities

TV report transcript

A new study looks at the connection between high ozone pollution levels and death rates in the U.S. Amy Katz reports the news is not good.

It has long been established that pollution affects people's health -- contributing to heart and breathing problems. But a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA, shows that ozone pollution -- which comes primarily from traffic and power plant emissions -- can kill.

Dr. Michelle Bell -- of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies -- conducted the study with colleagues from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"Our study found very strong evidence that ozone is tied to mortality in the United States. We looked at 95 large urban communities and found that mortality rates are higher when the previous week's ozone levels are higher."

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, to assess its current standards for ozone pollution. In it, scientists looked at 14 years of ozone and death records from 95 American cities -- approximately 40 percent of the population of the U.S.

"Even during those days we had lower ozone levels than the current standards for ozone, we still found ozone to be related to mortality."

Dr. Bell says lowering current ozone levels by one third, could save four-thousand lives a year in the 95 cities studied. Reduce the levels more -- even more lives could be saved. The EPA will consider the findings when it assesses its current standards. In the meantime, says Dr. Bell, people can also make a difference

"Things like using public transportation, lowering commuting times or carpooling. Also anything that lowers energy consumption would also lower ozone levels."

The goal -- cleaner and healthier air -- and fewer deaths related to high air pollution levels.