Burning Issues
Morbidity and Mortality from Air Pollution

"As many as 60,000 Americans die each year from particulate pollution." (Schwartz, 1991)

Air Pollution Increases Death Risk In People With Certain Diseases, Source: American Thoracic Society, Posted: May 22, 2006 The study found that for an increase of 10 micrograms/per cubic meter of PM10 over two years, the risk of dying was increased by:
* 32% for people with diabetes
* 28% for people with COPD
* 27% in people with congestive heart failure
* 22% for people with inflammatory disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus

"The study significantly strengthens evidence that breathing in particulate matter is associated with dying sooner," said researcher Joel Schwartz, Ph.D., Professor of Environmental Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Air pollution is responsible for 310,000 premature deaths in Europe each year, research suggests. Story from BBC NEWS: 2/21/05

Ambient levels of PM10 mg/m3 Increase in human death Hospitalization for heart disease Hospitalization for Pneumonia and COPD
10 0.5 1% 2%
50 2.5% 5% 10%
65 4% 6.5% 13%
100 5% 10% 20%
150 7.5% 15% 30%
Based on Information from The Health Effects Institute, 2000, BI/Clean Air Revival, Inc. 2001

The Health Effects Institute Review of studies of ambient PM10 in 90 cities in the year 2000, show a consistent one half percent increase in mortality for every change of 10 micrograms/meter cubed measured for 24 hours before the day of death. (We do not have similar data for PM 2.5m/m3 because there was no consistent monitoring data available in year 2001 for the researchers to analyze.) The same rise in particulate levels cause increased hospitalization for heart disease by one percent. Hospitalization for pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) increased two percent (HEI, 2001). (The current 24 hour Federal Standard PM Standard is 65 micrograms per cubic meter.)

"Thousands of deaths every year in the United States are associated with particulate air pollution, even at levels well below that which the EPA considers safe. The consistency and coherence of the evidence is remarkable: many investigators in different locations, using different methods, at different times and under different conditions, are finding particulate air pollution to be associated with increasing symptoms, increased incidence and prevalence of illnesses, increased absence from school and work, decreased lung function, increased emergency department visits, increased hospital admissions, and increased mortality (Dickey, 1996)."

"To summarize bluntly, any increase in fine particles in the atmosphere kills someone. The victims remain nameless, but they have been deprived of life all the same." (Montague, 1994)

"For the San Francisco Bay Area, this risk (from low levels of fine particulate pollution) is much greater than the risks from any toxic identified so far." "The entire excess death rate in the San Francisco Bay Area occurs during the wood burning months (Fairley 1990).The Relationship of Daily Mortality to Suspended Particulates."

"Respiratory infection caused by smoke from indoor cooking and heating fires causes more children's deaths in the Third World than does diarrhea, a well-known killer of infants and toddlers (WHO 1994)."

When Smoke Meets the Human Body

Moderate smoke inhalation reduces oxygen delivery, and increases oxygen demands on your body. It will matter a great deal to your body when you are exposed. Periods of particular susceptibility include: prenatal, childhood while the body is growing and is not fully protected by the immune system, or following cancer chemotherapy when the immune system is disabled. Smoke can be devastating to an individual following transplant surgery, during a case of the flu, or in addition to other body stresses of disease or emotional upset. Ambient levels of particulate pollution are related to mortality rates. We can go over the body systems and look at how WS can cause upset and even death to these systems.

Particulate pollution is soot. Wood smoke soot kills people. It always has. Well preserved mummies from 5,000 years ago (when there were no cars or diesel soot) show ravaged lungs at early ages. Wood smoke kills people just like cigarette smoke does. As with cigarette smoke, people who don't burn are exposed as well but on a larger scale. We know that cigarette smoke shortens lives. All smoke shortens lives. As long as populations are exposed to wood smoke it is clear that deaths will be increased in proportion to the smoke in the air.

The Health Effects Institute Review table is a landmark, and came about because of the general disbelief that surrounded the clarion call of statistical findings by Schwartz, Fairley and others. Earlier findings by Omni Environmental Services, Inc., who prepared a five state report in 1988 for the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) Bio-mass Energy Program included tables of estimated numbers of wood smoke deaths and cancer victims (Greene, 1988). The findings were a gross under estimate yet it was still a movement toward understanding the true cost of wood energy . It showed that there was a cost of loss of life and public health in the national biomass energy plan.

Burning Issues
Box 1045
Point Arena CA 95468
Tel: 707-882-3601
Email: [pm10mary at mcn dot org]

Back to Burning Issues