Excess Morbidity and Mortality

Associated with Air Pollution above ATS Recommended Standards, 2017-19

+ Kevin Cromar, Laura Gladson


This article was written by Kevin R Cromar, Laura A Gladson, E. Anne Hicks, Brenda Marsh, and Gary Ewart and published in Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

Rationale: Over the past year, the American Thoracic Society (ATS), led by its Environmental Health Policy Committee, has reviewed the most current air quality scientific evidence and has revised their recommendations to 8 µg/m3 and 25 µg/m3 for long- and short-term fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and reaffirmed the recommendation of 60 ppb for ozone to protect the American public from the known adverse health effects of air pollution. The current EPA standards, in contrast, expose the American public to pollution levels that are known to result in significant morbidity and mortality. Objectives: To provide county-level estimates of annual air pollution-related health outcomes across the United States using the most recent federal air quality data, and to support the ATS’s recent update to the long-term PM2.5recommended standard. This study is presented as part of the annual ATS/Marron Institute “Health of the Air” report. Methods: Daily air pollution values were obtained from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Air Quality System for monitored counties in the United States from 2017-2019. Concentration-response functions used in the EPA’s regulatory review process were applied to pollution increments corresponding to differences between the rolling 3-year design values and ATS-recommended levels for long-term PM2.5 (8 µg/m3), short-term PM2.5 (25 µg/m3), and ground-level ozone (O3; 60 ppb). Health impacts were estimated at the county level in locations with valid monitoring data. Results: Meeting ATS recommendations throughout the country prevents an estimated 14,650 (95% CI: 8,660 - 22,610) deaths; 2,950 (95% CI: 1,530 - 4,330) lung cancer incidence events; 33,100 (95% CI: 7,300 - 71,000) morbidities, and 39.8 million (95% CI: 14.6 - 63.3 million) impacted days annually (see Table 1). This prevents 11,850 more deaths; 2,580 more lung cancer incidence events; 25,400 more morbidities; and 27.2 million more impacted days than meeting EPA standards alone. Conclusions: Significant health benefits to be gained by U.S. communities that work to meet ATS-recommended air quality standards have now been identified under scenarios meeting the new ATS recommendation for long-term PM2.5 (8 µg/m3). The “Health of the Air” report presents an opportunity for air quality managers to quantify local health burdens and EPA officials to update their standards to reflect the latest science.


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Kevin Cromar, Ph.D., is a program director at the Marron Institute of Urban Management and a Clinical Associate Professor of Environmental Medicine and Population Health at New York University Grossman School of Medicine.

Laura Gladson (M.S.) is a Ph.D. candidate in New York University's Environmental Health Sciences department and a researcher with the Health, Environment, and Policy program at the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management.

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