Why is air quality unhealthy in Massachusetts?

The study was supported by the Barr Foundation and is the first to look at the far-reaching public health consequences of air pollution in the state on a town-by-town basis. The study found that air pollution-related illnesses, deaths, and reduced IQ occur in every city and town regardless of demographics or income levels. The highest rates are in the most economically and socially disadvantaged cities and towns.

The Boston University team estimated the cumulative impact on cognitive development of children in Massachusetts in 2019 as a loss of nearly 2 million Performance IQ points, or more than 2 IQ points for a child. average, according to the report published today in the journal. Environment healthy. Declining IQ reduces children’s school performance and reduces graduation ratesnoted the research team.


“We’re talking about the effects of air pollution at the local level in Massachusetts — not just statewide,” said Boston University lead author, Professor of Biology Philip J. Landrigan, Director of the Radio observed, said. “This report gives people in every city and town the opportunity to witness for themselves the quality of the air they and their families are breathing and the dangerous effects on the health of both people.” adults and children as a result of air pollution.” “All of these health effects occur at levels of contamination well below current EPA standards,” notes Landrigan.

The average level of fine particulate pollution across Massachusetts in 2019 was 6.3 micrograms per cubic meter, and levels ranged from a low of 2.77 micrograms per cubic meter in Worcester County to a high of 8.26 in Suffolk County. . The US Environmental Protection Agency standard is 12 micrograms per cubic meter, and the World Health Organization’s recommended guidelines are 5.

“Clearly, current EPA air pollution standards do not adequately protect public health,” Landrigan said.

Information on the air pollution of towns is often not available, because there are not enough air quality monitoring stations in the state. The team determined levels for all cities and towns using available data and computer models. While Massachusetts meets federal clean air guidelines, air pollution in the US has fallen by 70% since its adoption. An American law used to control air pollution in the country in the 1970s – when Landrigan and other scientists successfully pushed for the removal of lead from gasoline – air that is not clean at current levels still poses health hazards for both healthy people and people with other diseases or illnesses.

“We don’t have the level of air pollution you see in China or India and because it’s mostly invisible, people tend to forget about air pollution these days and we feel it,” says Landrigan. feel complacent”. “We hope to overcome this complacency and raise awareness. Air pollution is killing 2,780 people in Massachusetts every year, almost 5% of all deaths in the state, and that’s a big deal. Air pollution is something we can fix. We know the steps we need to take to minimize deaths and the impact on our children and grandchildren. Now, citizens in every city and town across the Commonwealth need to urge our elected officials to take those necessary steps. ”

Additional findings include:

  • Of the 2,780 air pollution deaths in Massachusetts in 2019, at least 2,185 were from lung cancer, 1,677 from heart disease, 343 from chronic lung disease, and 200 from stroke.
  • Air pollution is responsible for 15,386 cases of childhood asthma and an estimated 308 low birth weight (5.5 lbs. or less) infants.

What is the main cause of air pollution in Massachusetts?

More than 95% of air pollution in Massachusetts is caused by the burning of fossil fuels. Cars, trucks, buses, planes, trains and ships produce two-thirds of pollutant emissions – 655,000 tons – 2017, the most recent year for which data are available. Power plants, industrial facilities, heating and home cooking produced 283,000 tons. In total, these sources released 938,000 tons of pollutants.

Burning fossil fuels It is also a major source of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that lead to global climate change, which the researchers say should further encourage Massachusetts to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions by shifting switch to cleaner fuels.

Air pollution harms our environment and young peopleKathryn Wright, the Barr Foundation’s Senior Program Officer for Clean Energy, says these burdens disproportionately impact communities that protect the environment. ”

Health risks from fine particulate air pollution

Fine particulate air pollution is associated with many non-communicable diseases in adultsincluding cardiovascular disease, stroke, lung cancer and diabetes. In infants and children, air pollution increases the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, stillbirth, impaired lung development, and asthma.

“All of these adverse health effects occurred at levels of fine particulate matter pollution well below the US Environmental Protection Agency’s current annual standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter,” Landrigan said. . “So even for a state like Massachusetts that registers below that standard, Air pollution is a formidable public health threat that urgently needs to be addressed. “

Ways to reduce air pollution

The report recommends the following solutions:

  • City and town officials should convert their fleets to electric vehicles, install solar panels on public buildings, offer incentives to buy green electricity, ban gas hooks in new construction, and amend regulations building standards to increase energy efficiency.
  • Massachusetts authorities must urge the US Environmental Protection Agency to tighten federal air quality standards for fine particulate pollution to better protect health. It is unacceptable that pollution can cause illness and premature death in Massachusetts residents to the extent legally permissible.
  • Massachusetts must set goals and timetables to reduce air pollution emissions.
  • The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) must add more air monitoring stations with a preference for placing monitors in economically disadvantaged and socially vulnerable communities.
  • DEP is required to publish an open source air pollution emissions inventory, which is updated annually
  • The Massachusetts Department of Public Health must create an open-access dashboard on pollution-related morbidity and mortality in each county, city, and town in the Commonwealth.
  • Massachusetts and the United States must recognize the significant health and environmental impacts of natural gas and reduce reliance on gas for electricity generation and heating.
  • Massachusetts and the United States must accelerate the transition from fossil fuels to wind and solar power by encouraging renewable energy and ending tax breaks and government subsidies for the fuel industry. fossil material.

Source: Eurekalert

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