Extreme heat and pollution increase death rates

Extreme heat and pollution increase death rates

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A new study reveals that the risk of death skyrockets by 21% on days when a peak of high temperatures and atmospheric pollution coincide

The heat waves and the atmospheric pollution they are two of the most detrimental environmental factors for human health. Separately, the arrival of these phenomena can both cause conditions and worsen the state of a host of heart and respiratory diseases. But when both phenomena coincidesomething that will happen with increasing frequency as the climate crisis progresses, everything indicates that the damage caused by these climatic extremes will shoot higher than expected.

According to a new study led by a team of researchers from the University of Southern California (United States), extreme hot days carried a 6.1% increased risk of death. On days of extreme air pollution, deaths were 5% more likely. But on the days where a peak in temperatures and air pollution coincided, deaths were 21% more likely: a synergistic effect that almost doubles the impact of exhibitions combined individual.

“We found that the effect of exposure to extreme temperatures and extreme pollution on mortality is greater than the sum of their individual effects“, explains Dr. Mostafijur Rahman, lead author of the study, published in the scientific journal ‘American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine’. Previous studies have already examined how extreme heat and air pollution separately affect mortality risk, and how each varies with the other. But this study is the first to use a new approach to study what happens when extreme heat and air pollution coincide.

Cardiovascular and respiratory diseases

The research, in addition to analyzing the variations in general mortality, also examined deaths from cardiovascular and respiratory conditions. On days of extreme heat and air pollution, overall mortality risk increased by 21%. The risk of death from cardiovascular problems increased by 29.9% and the risk of death from respiratory problems by 38%.

The study also managed to draw an overview of the risk that this phenomenon entails depending on the age group. On days of extreme exposure, old people They were the most at risk. The analysis points to a 36.2% increase in mortality risk for older than 75 yearscompared to an 8.5% increase in mortality risk for people aged 75 and younger when exposed to both extreme heat and pollution.

“Understand the risks associated with these exposures is really important, because we know that will increase with climate change in many different parts of the United States and the world,” explains Erika Garcia, also lead author of the study, who notes that these findings could ultimately help people, communities, and health systems prepare for climate end and minimize possible damage.

Environmental conditions

The analysis focuses on a study of all deaths in California between 2014 and 2019 (a total of more than 1.5 million) using data from California Department of Public Health death certificates. They also got data on air temperature and fine particulate matter levels (PM2.5), a tiny particulate pollution in the air that is known to cause health problems.

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They then linked the deaths to the local environmental conditions based on the person’s address to understand the effects of exposure. Using data on temperature and air pollution levels, the researchers classified each day into one of four categories: no extreme exposure, extreme heat only, extreme air pollution only, or extreme heat and air pollution.

Although the study did not focus on studying the specific causes behind these deaths, experts explain that phenomena such as extreme heat or high levels of pollution often cause conditions such as heart failure and pneumonia. On days when both heat and air pollution reach extreme levels, people may have more inflammation and oxidative stressas well as problems regulating internal temperature of the body, says Rahman.

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