Researchers have found that exposure to air pollution can still increase a person’s risk of death 30 years later.
The findings, published in the journal, Thorax, are based on data from one of the world’s longest-running air-pollution studies, which followed 368,000 people in England and Wales over 38 years.
Scientists used measurements from local air-quality monitoring stations to estimate pollution levels of the areas where study participants lived between 1971 and 2001. They then looked at this information alongside data collected about participants regarding health to see if there was a possible relationship.
Lung conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and pneumonia, were among the most common conditions that people developed, alongside heart conditions.
Overall, the researchers found that more recent exposure to air pollution was more important to the risk of illness and death, but they also noted that the effects of poor air quality could last for over 30 years after exposure.
For example, they found that the higher the level of air pollution a person was exposed to in 1971, the more likely they were to develop a related condition and, in some cases, die from it in 2002–2009.
The risk of living in a higher-pollution area in 1971 and developing a related condition and dying from it in 2002–2009 was similar to that of someone living in a higher-pollution area in 2001.
However, while it would seem that the levels of risk are comparable, it is important to note that the overall exposure levels were much lower in 2001.
The researchers say that the study adds further weight to evidence that breathing in polluted air can have harmful effects on our health in both the short and long term.
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