Quantcast

Polluted Air Sends Up to 33 Million People to the ER Each Year

Health + Wellness
Activists gathered on Nicolson Street to demand clean air on Aug. 25, 2015 after the zone failed to meet Scottish Air Quality Safety Standards. Friends of the Earth Scotland / CC BY 2.0

Earlier this week, President Trump posted a false tweet that boasted about the U.S. having the "cleanest air in the world - BY FAR!"

But a new study has found that millions of people around the world—including U.S. citizens—are going to the ER for asthma attacks because they are breathing dirty air.


Between 9 to 33 million visits to the emergency room for asthma worldwide may be triggered by breathing in air polluted by ozone or fine particulate matter, a first-of-its-kind global study from George Washington University has found.

Fraction of total national asthma emergency room visits that are attributable to ozone.Susan C. Anenberg/GW Milken Institute School of Public Health

Ozone pollution is created when emissions from industrial facilities, electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust and other sources interacts with sunlight. Fine particulate matter—or extremely tiny particles of pollution often associated with industrial emissions—can lodge deep into the lungs. These two forms of air pollution that are linked to asthma as well as a vast array of negative health impacts.

In the study, published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, the researchers examined emergency room visits for asthma in 54 countries and Hong Kong and then combined that information with pollution levels around the globe.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • Nine to 23 million annual asthma emergency room visits globally (8 to 20 percent of total global asthma ER visits) may be triggered by ozone.
  • Five to 10 million asthma emergency room visits every year (4 to 9 percent of total global asthma ER visits) were linked to fine particulate matter.
  • About half of the asthma emergency room visits attributed to dirty air were estimated to occur in South and East Asian countries, notably India and China.
  • Although the air in the U.S. is relatively clean compared to South and East Asian countries, ozone and particulate matter were estimated to contribute 8 to 21 percent and 3 to 11 percent of asthma ER visits in the U.S., respectively.

"We know that air pollution is the leading environmental health risk factor globally," Susan Anenberg, lead author and associate professor at the university's Milken Institute School of Public Health, said in a press release. "Our results show that the range of global public health impacts from breathing dirty air are even more far reaching—and include millions of asthma attacks every year."

Based on the findings, the researchers suggested that policies aimed at cleaning up the air can reduce the global burden of asthma and improve respiratory health around the world.

For instance, targeting emissions from cars—especially in big cities—would be a quick way to reduce air pollution.

"The good news is that traffic is a major source of both forms of pollution, so just reducing traffic by improving public transit and developing infrastructure that encourages people to walk or bike can improve both at the same time," Anenberg told Environmental Health News.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Photobos / iStock / Getty Images

Governors in Vermont and Maine signed bills on Monday that will ban plastic bags in their states next year, The Hill reported.

The Maine ban will go into effect next Earth Day, April 22, 2020. The Vermont ban, which extends beyond plastic bags and is the most comprehensive plastics ban so far, will go into effect in July 2020. The wait time is designed to give businesses time to adjust to the ban.

Read More Show Less
picture-alliance / AP Images / D. Goldman

By Daniel Moattar

Eastern Kentucky's hills are interrupted by jarring flats of bare rock: the aftermath of mountaintop removal mining, which uses explosives to destroy and harvest coal-rich peaks.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Members of Fossil Free Tompkins march at a parade in Ithaca. Fossil Free Tompkins

By Molly Taft

Lisa Marshall isn't your typical activist. For one thing, she's not into crowds. "I don't really like rallies," Marshall, a mom of three from upstate New York, said. "They're a little stressful — not my favorite thing."

Read More Show Less
An oil drilling site in a residential area of Los Angeles, California on July 16, 2014. Faces of Fracking / Flickr

By Jake Johnson

A comprehensive analysis of nearly 1,500 scientific studies, government reports, and media stories on the consequences of fracking released Wednesday found that the evidence overwhelmingly shows the drilling method poses a profound threat to public health and the climate.

Read More Show Less
sonsam / iStock / Getty Images

By Grace Francese

A new Environmental Working Group (EWG) study published in Environmental Research found that nitrate, one of the most common contaminants of drinking water, may cause up to 12,594 cases of cancer per year, but that's not its only danger: It can pose unique health risks to children.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Melt water from Everest's Khumbu glacier. Ed Giles / Getty Images

The glaciers of the Himalayas are melting twice as fast as they were in the year 2000, a study published Wednesday in Science Advances found.

Read More Show Less
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signs his replacement for the Clean Power Plan. Win McNamee / Getty Images

Former coal lobbyist and Trump-appointed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed a rule Wednesday that officially replaces the Obama-era Clean Power Plan with a new regulation that Wheeler said could lead to the opening of more coal plants, the Associated Press reported.

Read More Show Less
Oil palm plantations in northeastern Borneo, state of Sabah, Malaysia. Recently planted oil palms can be seen in the bright green grassy areas and a tiny bit of natural rainforest still struggles for survival farther away. Vaara / E+ / Getty Images

Palm Oil importers in Europe will not be able to meet their self-imposed goal of only selling palm oil that is certified deforestation-free, according to a new analysis produced by the Palm Oil Transparency Coalition, as Bloomberg reported.

Read More Show Less