Air pollution is associated with an increased risk of death in Canada—even when air pollution is below national and international air quality guidelines—according to a recent study from the University of British Columbia (UBC). According to an article from UBC, this is the largest and most comprehensive study examining the relationship between air pollution and deaths in Canada. Nearly nine million adults comprised the study sample.
This study is one of three commissioned by the Health Effects Institute (HEI) to assess how long-term exposure to air pollution—even at decreased levels—impacts health. HEI is a non-profit organization that provides unbiased science on the health impacts of pollutants, including motor vehicles and other sources. The UBC study and initial HEI report were published online this week.
According to the report, ambient air pollution has declined significantly throughout North American and Europe. However, adverse health risks still occur. Exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5)—considered a causal risk factor for mortality—caused approximately 2.9 million deaths in 2017. Additionally, the report cites that exposure to fine particulate matter is linked to increased risks for chronic diseases such as lung cancer, heart attack, and stroke.
The report states that researchers used satellite data, ground-level measurements, atmospheric modeling data, and land-use covariates to estimate annual exposure to fine particulate matter throughout the United States and Canada from 1981-2016. Michael Brauer, lead author and professor at UBC’s school of population and public health, told UBC reporters that their research discovered a 5% increase in the risk of death of Canadians in high-pollution areas (when compared to low-pollution regions). He stated, “this is concerning because millions of Canadians live in high-pollution areas and the aggregate impact is substantial.” He continued that although Canada meets the World Health Organization and national air quality guidelines, this study shows that “air pollution at any concentration is hurting Canadians and the world population.”
Brauer and his research team also examined how immigrants to Canada are impacted by air pollution. According to their report, immigrants comprise 20% of the Canadian population but are typically excluded from studies such as this. They discovered that new immigrants are just as sensitive, or more sensitive, to the health impacts of air pollution.
This comprehensive HEI study aims to provide information not only to scientists but policymakers and risk assessors who determine acceptable air pollution exposure guidelines for North America and Europe. The remaining research components of this project are expected to be completed in 2020.