Air pollution deadlier than we thought, say scientists
by Richard Macey

Sydney Morning Herald Article 4th April 2002

Inhaling tiny pollution particles pumped into the air by trucks, industry and fires may be more deadly than previously thought, United States researchers say. 

The scientists, who tracked 500,000 Americans for 16 years, found long-term exposure to very small particles significantly increased deaths from lung cancer and heart diseases.  The findings prompted calls for Australia to do more to fight air pollution and quickly establish its own standard for very fine particles. 

Researchers from New York University and Brigham Young University, Utah, calculated that lung cancer deaths increased by 8 per cent for every 10 micrograms of fine-particle pollution floating in every cubic metre of air.  Cardio-pulmonary disease deaths rose 6 per cent with the same exposure. 

‘We found that the risk of dying from lung cancer as well as heart disease in the most polluted cities was comparable to the risk associated with non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke over a long period of time,’ said the team’s leader, Dr Arden Pope. 

The co-leader, Associate Professor George Thurston, said: ‘This study is compelling because it involves hundreds of thousands of people in many cities across the US who were followed for almost two decades.  The bad news is that fine-particle pollution is even more toxic than we thought.’ 

The researchers defined fine particles as smaller than 2.5 micrometres in diameter.  Leigh Martin, urban campaign manager for Sydney’s Total Environment Centre, said Australia did not even have a standard for particles that small.‘That is a major shortcoming.’ 

A spokesman for the NSW Environment Protection Authority conceded that it was concerned by the US findings.