Cleaner Air Shown to Reduce Health Costs

Sept. 3, 2014

Health costs drop by half as a result of environmental regulations.

A study of air pollution reduction measures over the past ten years in Taiyuan, China, shows more than 50% of health costs associated with loss of life and disability have been saved as a direct result of the regulations’ implementation. 

The research, published in Environment International examined the economic effects of regulatory measures such as mandating the closure of the most polluting sources, auditing companies that produced large amounts of hazardous materials, setting pollutant emissions standards, and promoting pollution reduction. After implementation of these regulatory policies, Taiyuan was able to decrease the concentration of particulate matter in the air by more than half. Particulate matter, small pieces that are released into the air when coal is burned, can lodge in human lungs and poses the most immediate health hazard of the most common air pollutants. 

Measuring reductions in disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), a standard measure of the loss of healthy years, the team found more than 30,000 fewer DALYs attributable to air pollution in 2010 when compared to the statistics from 2001. The cost of premature death due to air pollution also dropped approximately $621 million over the ten years measured. 

“Our results suggest that the air quality improvement from 2001 to 2010 resulted in substantial health benefits. In fact, the health and financial impacts of air pollution could potentially be greater than those reported due to our selection of only a few health outcomes,” says Deliang Tang, co-author of the study performed jointly between the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, Shanxi Medical University, the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention of Taiyuan Municipality, and Shanghai Fudan University School of Public Health. 

With similar results being found as results of proposed regulation in the U.S., will America ever get serious about reducing air pollution? Sound off in our comments below!

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