According to the EPA, researchers have long linked asthma— a serious and life-threatening chronic respiratory disease that affects the quality of life of more than 23 million Americans— with exposure to air pollution. Cities with some of the worst air pollution have the highest rates of asthma but if those cities cleaned up their air would it lead to fewer childhood asthma cases? Newly published research from the University of Southern California seems to indicate that it does. As NPR explained, scientists have already been checking in periodically on the health of students in 12 different communities in the Los Angeles area and the research team at USC compared these communities to their pollution reduction levels over the past several decades. The research team found that air pollution declined by about 20% over the 20-year period (starting in 1993) which corresponded with about a 20% decline in the rate of new asthma cases in children.
Dr. Erika Garcia of USC led the study and explained to NPR that her “results show improvements above and beyond what those changes might have delivered as well. The study can’t prove cause and effect, but the findings provide strong circumstantial evidence that reducing air pollution reduces illness.”
- There were other positive trends in these communities as well. The study found that pregnant women sharply reduced their smoking over this time period, and children were exposed to far less secondhand tobacco smoke.
- John Balmes, an environmental health professor at the University of California, San Francisco and the physician member of the California Air Resources Board, says it’s no surprise that cleaner air means less illness. But it’s still important evidence in the ongoing debate over just how much money we should spend to improve the air.
Why This Matters: This research shows that reducing air pollution saves lives as not only can asthma lead to fatal attacks but it also increases the risk of heart disease for people struggling with the disease. It also comes at a critical time as the Environmental Protection Agency is planning to change the way it calculates the health risks of air pollution as a means to get thousands of deaths off the books–the Trump administration refuses to admit that air pollution leads to premature death despite clear evidence. States like California have been making a concerted effort to reduce air pollution, and the positive benefits are indisputable–it’s time that the federal government set stricter standards to protect all Americans equally.