MONDAY, June 23, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Lung disease-related deaths fell after stricter national and state air pollution limits took effect in North Carolina in the early 1990s, a new study finds.
Researchers analyzed state public health data from 1993 to 2010 and discovered that death rates from asthma, pneumonia and emphysema fell during that time. That decrease coincided with improving air quality.
"This research tends to show that environmental policies work, if the goal of those policies is not only to improve the environment, but also to improve health," study senior author Dr. H. Kim Lyerly, professor of surgery, associate professor of pathology and assistant professor of immunology at Duke University, said in a university news release.
"While a few studies have analyzed the associations of both air quality and health over a long period, they were typically limited to analyses of a specific air pollutant or a couple of pollutants," Lyerly noted.
However, Lyerly said his team gained access to a number of separate databases tracking information on the environment or health, and the researchers were able to study "a number of air contaminants, including both particulate matter and noxious gases over almost two decades."
The researchers used death statistics from state public health data, along with monthly measurements from air-monitoring stations across North Carolina from 1993-2010, to find a close association between improved air quality and declining death rates from respiratory illnesses.
The study, published online June 23 in the International Journal of COPD, could not prove that clean-air regulations caused the reduction in lung disease, it could only point to an association. The research involved scientists from Duke University's School of Medicine, its Center for Population Health and Aging, and the Nicholas School of the Environment along with researchers at the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The researchers analyzed a 17-year period after a variety of federal air pollution measures were instituted in the early 1990s. The regulations were meant to reduce emissions from vehicles, chemical plants and coal-fired power plants, and to lower emissions linked to acid rain and depletion of the atmosphere's ozone layer.
Measures introduced by North Carolina included major reductions in emissions from coal-fired power plants, the study authors said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about air pollution and respiratory healthy.
SOURCE: Duke University, news release, June 23, 2014