Dirty Air Can Kill You, In More Ways Than You Might Think
Jan 13, 2020 12:00 AM
Whether you can see the problem or not, dirty air can kill you.
That’s the message many Utahns are surprised to hear when Lee Chung, MD talks about the connection between air quality and stroke.
An analysis of global data from 2015 found that 21 percent of stroke mortality were connected to environmental pollution, according to a study in The Lancet medical journal.
“I think people understand in general terms that air pollution is bad, but I don’t think they realize how clearly we can show an increased number of strokes and increased death from strokes after pollution,” said Chung, a vascular neurologist and assistant professor at University of Utah Health. “People who study this are even more alarmed because we have the data to show this very direct link.”
Chung collaborates with Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, a non-profit working to increase community knowledge about air quality and other environmental con-cerns while advocating for change. He has helped the group distribute information at events such as the Downtown Farmers Market, lobbied the state legislature, and lec-tured at an educational event at the downtown public library about pollution and neurological disease.
Scientists know that during periods of high pollution, people have increased inflammation and systemic medical problems that can lead to an increase of clot formation and high blood pressure.
“In multiple cities around the world, neurologists have shown that even after one particularly bad day of pollution the risk of strokes and the risk of dying from strokes increases for a measurable period after that,” he said.
Earlier this year, UPHE participated in the Utah Stroke Symposium, which Chung directs, where the group discussed upcoming legislative challenges to improving air quality in the region.
“The public has a right to know and policy makers have an obligation to take into account what science is telling us about what air pollution does to public health,” said Brian Moench, MD, UPHE founder and president.
More than 5,000 studies, many published in the last 15 years, indicate that air pollution is a serious public health hazard, he said.
In 2009, UPHE made a formal presentation to leaders of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about the impacts of air pollution on fetal development and children.
Babies have an elevated risk of chronic health problems throughout their lifetime as a result of air pollution their mother breathed during pregnancy. Even preconception exposure has been shown to affect a child’s organ development.
While particulate levels in the air have decreased over time, the increase in wildfires is worsening air quality and ozone levels are on the rise.
“It’s all extremely disturbing,” Moench said. “There isn’t a lot of good news.”
UHPE tries to educate the public in any way it can whether it’s sharing information with experts such as Chung, writing opinion pieces for the newspaper or holding town halls.
“We continue to try and get an audience with influential politicians and influential church leaders,” Moench said. “Any opportunity we can get to tell the story that medical science tells us we’ll try and take advantage of.”
To volunteer at future Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment events, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. All medical professionals and community members are welcome.
Written by Pulse News Contributor Julia Lyon