Researchers at Boston College’s Global Observatory on Planetary Health published a recent study in Environmental Health identifying 2,780 deaths, illnesses, and IQ loss Massachusetts children in 2019 resulting from air pollution. The study is the first to examine the public health effects of climate change on a town-by-town basis and was supported by the Barr Foundation, whose mission is to “invest in human, natural, and creative potential, serving as thoughtful stewards and catalysts.”
The alarming statistics can be broken down even further: Of the 2,780 deaths due to air pollution in Massachusetts in 2019, at least 2,185 were from lung cancer, 343 to chronic lung disease, 1,677 to heart disease, and 200 to stroke. Air pollution was also responsible for 15,386 cases of pediatric asthma and approximately 308 low-birthweight babies, which counts as 5.5 pounds or less. In terms of childhood cognitive development, air pollution in Massachusetts in 2019 was found to contribute to a loss of 2 million Performance IQ points, or greater than 2 IQ points for the average child.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard for fine particulate pollution is 12 micrograms per cubic meter, while the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) suggested guideline is 5 micrograms per cubic meter. Massachusetts in 2019 experienced an average of 6.3 micrograms per cubic meter, which is below the EPA’s standard but above the WHO standard. The fine particulate levels ranged from a low of 2.77 in Worcester County to a high of 8.26 in Suffolk County.
"We are talking about the impacts of air pollution at a very local level in Massachusetts -- not just statewide," said Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, MD, who is a Boston College Professor of Biology, Director of the Observatory, and lead author of the study. "This report gives the people in every city and town the opportunity to see for themselves the quality of the air they and their families are breathing and the dangerous health implications for both adults and children as a consequence of air pollution."
Along with the alarming numbers, the study advocates for solutions to help alleviate the effects of air pollution on public health. These solutions include phasing in green electricity (electric vehicles, solar panels, and becoming more energy efficient), urging the EPA to strengthen federal standards for air quality, and recognizing the public health effects of air pollution.
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