Cleaner air increases life expectancy

With smog and fuel exhaust, Southern Californians have little to brag about.

"Certainly when it comes to air quality we are the worse in the nation," said Dr. Jim Gauderman.

A New England Journal of Medicine study of 51 U.S. cities confirms this. But researchers went a step further, they wanted to know how pollution affects life span.

"There definitely was an association between particulate pollution in those areas and the average life expectancy," said Dr. Gauderman.

But the news isn't all bad. Preventive medicine expert Dr. Jim Gauderman, says pollution took a turn for the better after the Clean Air Act of 1980.

Nationally air pollution decreased and the average life span picked up about three years.

"This study is really great proof that improving air quality can result in measurable improvements in human health," said Dr. Gauderman.

The city with the best air quality is Albuquerque, New Mexico. The average life span there is 77 years.

The city with one of the poorest air qualities is Charleston and West Virginia. Residents there live about 75 years.

Even though L.A. has the dirtiest air the average life span is 78 years old.

"So it's clear that there are other factors then pollution that might be related to life expectancy," said Dr. Gauderman.

Like avoiding freeway fumes by using recirculating air in the car. Glendale resident Aggie Steel even limits the amount of time she's on the road.

"I try to drive a shorter distance. I work very near here. I live within four miles of work," said Steel.

"The more we can improve the air quality the better we are going to not only do in terms of life expectancy, but also in terms of other diseases that can occur throughout life," said Dr. Gauderman.

Researchers found people in polluted cities did suffer more heart disease and lung problems.

The city with the longest life span according to this pollution study: San Jose at 80 years, followed by San Francisco at 79 years.

Web Extra Information:


Exposure to fine-particulate air pollution has been associated with increased morbidity and mortality, suggesting that sustained reductions in pollution exposure should result in improved life expectancy. This study directly evaluated the changes in life expectancy associated with differential changes in fine particulate air pollution that occurred in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s.


We compiled data on life expectancy, socioeconomic status and demographic characteristics for 211 county units in the 51 U.S. metropolitan areas with matching data on fine-particulate air pollution for the late 1970s and early 1980s and the late 1990s and early 2000s. Regression models were used to estimate the association between reductions in pollution and changes in life expectancy, with adjustment for changes in socioeconomic and demographic variables and in proxy indicators for the prevalence of cigarette smoking.


A decrease in the concentration of fine particulate matter was associated with an estimated increase of life expectancy. The estimated effect of reduced exposure to pollution of life expectancy was not highly sensitive to adjustment for changes in socioeconomic, demographic, or proxy variables for the prevalence of smoking or to the restriction of observations to relatively large counties. Reductions in air pollution accounted for as much as 15 percent of overall increase in life expectancy in the study areas.



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