Experts may be significantly underestimating air pollution’s role in causing early death, according to a team of researchers who studied twenty years of auto emissions data to learn the effect on Los Angeles residents. Also, the closer children live to a freeway, the greater their chance of being diagnosed with asthma. These children have higher levels of nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, in the air around their homes. NO2 is emitted from car and truck engines.

The problem is the tiny particles that are emitted in auto exhaust. For each increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter, the risk of death from any cause rose by 11 to 17%. Researcher Michael Jerrett says, “By looking at the effects of pollution within communities, not only did we observe pollution’s influence on overall mortality, but we saw specific links between particulate matter and death from heart attacks, as well as lung cancers.”

Tiny particles pose the greatest problems to health because they can penetrate deep into the lungs and sometimes enter the bloodstream that way. Scientists also tracked ozone pollution, but found no link between ozone levels and mortality.

Researchers also saw more than a twofold increased risk of death from diabetes. “People who are diabetic may be more susceptible to day-to-day fluctuations in air pollution,” Jerrett says. “They may experience a state of greater inflammation?related to insulin resistance?that makes their lungs more receptive to receiving harmful particles.”

Researchers will conduct a similar study in New York City to try to duplicate their findings. They want to know whether Los Angeles’ tailpipe-emission-driven pollution poses a greater danger than that in the eastern United States, where power plants and factories contribute more heavily to pollution.

“These findings should give us some pause to think about what we need to do as a society,” Jerrett says. “Restrictions on tailpipe emissions have gotten tighter, but there are more trucks and cars on the roads and people are driving farther. This study may cause us to reflect on how we use our cars, what cars we drive and whether we can do anything to make tailpipe emissions from all vehicles less harmful to health.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is worried that our current government’s pro-business stance with regard to air pollution is killing people. Kennedy says that under Bush, air cleanup programs have been rolled back and he has put people in charge who are anti-environment. He blames the press for not informing the public about what?s really going on. The media is afraid of government regulation, so they hold back their criticism of things like Bush’s Clear Skies initiative, which focuses on exchanging “points” that would allow power plants and companies to continue to pollute our skies, rather than mandating that this pollution be stopped.

Kennedy is also worried about mercury pollution from coal-burning power plants that lead to acid rain. Fish taken from streams and lakes in 48 states are now unsafe to eat because of their mercury levels. The only two states where fish haven’t been tested are Wyoming and Alaska, because the legislatures in those states won’t appropriate the money to do the tests.

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