Air Pollution Causes More Diseases Than Expected

First Posted: Jan 22, 2014 08:21 AM EST

It turns out that pollution may be deadlier than expected. Scientists have discovered that air pollution causes a list of injuries and diseases that's far longer than previously thought.

Air pollution can cause everything from asthma attacks to wheezing to cardiovascular diseases to lung cancer. This isn't surprising considering that with each inhalation, we exchange about one liter of air. Depending on the activity level, this can make up a daily quantity in the order to twenty cubic meters of air. This can make us ill depending on how polluted the air is.

In order to examine exactly what impacts polluted air might have on the health of individuals, the researchers combined both measurements and models. More specifically, they combined measurements on relatively few but well-chosen places with advanced models for spreading air pollution. This allowed them to calculate air pollution down to individual addresses.

"So the list of diseases detected in Denmark is long, but it does not mean that we have the world's most polluted air," said Ole Hertel, one of the researchers, in a news release. "This is to be found in Asia, Africa and South America. Here, you typically find a yearly mean value of the particle pollution (PM10) of 50-200 micrograms per cubic meters of air, while the content in Copenhagen and other Western European megacities typically is at a lower level--about 20-50 micrograms per cubic meter. But even in a 'moderately polluted' air as we call it in Danish towns and cities, we find many serious injuries which come from the air that we breathe every day."

The findings were partially thanks to the fact that Denmark has such comprehensive health registers. The researchers were able to connect addresses and health registers with air-polluted areas. In the end, the scientists uncovered some unusual results.

"I came as a surprise to me that the studies showed a connection between air pollution and diabetes, said Hertel in a news release. "It is rather new information that air pollution can cause diabetes, and we are working on finding a biological explanation for this correlation. This is an example of the fact that our very detailed way of working in Denmark leads to precise results."

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