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New air study says it’s not wheezy being green

by Lisa Jacobson
Jan 22, 2009

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The study

“Green and environmental are not the same thing.”

That’s a point one environmental expert made when talking about the air quality in Chicago.

The city is working on being green, but scientists studying Chicago and other metropolitan areas are more concerned about pollution and its effect on citizens’ health.

“Going green is steps that we take to reduce pollution in our lives while environment is a byproduct of a way we live,” said Tin, director of Environmental Programs for the American Lung Association of Illinois.

Tin made the distinction in talking about a study of metropolis pollution conducted by professors from Harvard and Brigham Young universities, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday.

The study connects the reduction of pollution with the increase in lifespan. Chicago was one of the 51 cities positively identified in the study.

“We are making progress because of programs and new regulations in place,” said Maggie Carson, media representative for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

With annual estimated emission trends in Chicago’s carbon dioxide decreasing 66 percent from 1981 to 2007, Chicago was one of the 51 U.S. metropolitan areas included in a new study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study’s authors, C. Arden Pope III, an economist at Brigham Young; Majid Ezzati, who teaches international health at Harvard; and Douglas W. Dockery, an environmental epidemiologist at Harvard, proved that, with decreased pollution rates, a person’s average life expectancy will increase by almost five months.

“Definitely there is a correlation between health and environment,” Tin said, “But it’s hard to diagnose because of other factors in the environment.”

For this reason, Pope, Ezzati and Dockery took special care to make adjustments for socioeconomic conditions, demographic variables and the prevalence of cigarette smoking.

“We are definitely going in the right direction,” Carson said. Emission standards in the city have been tightened, and with an increase in technology, it is now easier to find pollutants than ever before. “It’s been a positive thing for society, and this study documents it,” Carson said.

Air pollution action days, in which residents are asked to restrict outdoor activities and be careful if they have health conditions, are much fewer and more far between in Chicago than ever before, Carson said.

“We all have to help,” Tin said. “Pollution is not just industry.”