Air pollution damaging our health: report

Monday, 04 April, 2016

Air pollution damaging our health: report

Air pollution from all sources is capable of adversely affecting Sydneysiders, says a report into the health effects of particles in air pollution released by the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research.

In collaboration with the Centre for Air Quality and Health Research and Evaluation (CAR) in Sydney, the two agencies have published the largest ever review of evidence to come out of Australia on the health impact of different sources of particulate matter (PM) air pollution on population health.

“The collation of considerable evidence in this review shows that emissions from combustion sources like vehicle exhaust, diesel combustion, coal-fired power stations and wood heaters are likely to have the greatest impact on health,” said lead author Dr Neil Hime from Woolcock. 

“Nevertheless, PM from other sources that may be substantial in non-urban areas, such as dust emitted during agricultural, mining or natural processes, also has the potential to affect health.

“This is why we suggest that immediate efforts should target reducing the total PM in outdoor air.”

While the report recognised that PM air pollution levels are low in relation to many industrialised countries, the levels currently present can be high enough to cause measureable adverse impacts on health, particularly in children, the elderly and people with chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Dr Hime said one their conclusions — that “there is no evidence of a threshold below which ambient PM has no health effects” — is highly important, as it suggests that improvements in population health will continue to occur as ambient concentrations of PM are reduced to ‘background levels’.

The NSW Government already has a range of policies in place focused on reducing particle emissions; however, the report recommends further action, such as tighter vehicle and fuel standards in order to reduce exposure.

The review also emphasises the importance of pollution from combustion sources, as improvements here are likely to bring the greatest health benefits.

“For instance, we saw much evidence to indicate that traffic pollution from vehicle exhausts can affect health,” said co-author Dr Christine Cowie.

She said traffic-related air pollution has been extensively investigated and future research may find that other, less investigated sources are as hazardous.

“However, because much of the population is exposed to traffic emissions due to the density of Sydney’s population and people’s commuting habits, this source of air pollution should be a focus of actions to reduce the concentration of particles in outdoor air.”

Despite the finding, the authors stress that the public should not be alarmed since particle pollution levels in Australia are good compared to international standards.

“But, as the report suggests, lowering pollution levels from all sources of PM will reap health benefits for NSW residents, particularly for the most vulnerable groups. Fewer people would require hospital treatment and fewer people would die prematurely as a result,” added Dr Hime.

The report, titled Review of the health impacts of emission sources, types and levels of particulate matter air pollution in ambient air in NSW’, can be viewed on the CAR website or downloaded here

Image credit: © Gutenberger

Originally published here.

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