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Thursday, 17 October, 2002, 22:57 GMT 23:57 UK
Cleaner air 'cuts deaths'
Main roads were linked to increased risk of fatal disease
Cutting pollution reduces deaths from heart and lung disease, two studies have shown.

Both looked at how the environment affected people's health.

An Irish study found death rates in Dublin from heart and lung diseases fell dramatically after the 1990 coal ban.

And a Dutch study found people were twice as likely to die from such illnesses if they lived near a main road.

Environmental campaigners said the research supported their calls to cut pollution from all sources.

Coal fire
A coal ban in Dublin in 1990 was linked to a decrease in deaths
In the Dublin study, researchers looked at death rates in the six years prior to the coal ban, and the six years following it.

They found the average concentrations of black smoke decreased by 70% after the ban on coal sales.

Deaths from respiratory diseases decreased by around 15%, and by cardiovascular diseases by around 10% - equivalent to 116 fewer respiratory deaths and 243 fewer cardiovascular deaths every year after the ban.

'Immediate reduction'

Other studies have shown that increased air-pollution concentrations increase mortality.

The researchers said this study showed that decreasing air pollution was associated with a marked reduction in mortality.

Writing in the Lancet, the researchers led by Professor Luke Clancy of St James Hospital, Dublin, said: "Our findings suggest that control of particulate air pollution in Dublin led to an immediate reduction in cardiovascular and respiratory deaths.

"These data lend support to a relation between cause and the reported increase in acute mortality associated with daily particulate air pollution."

He said other studies could have under-estimated the benefits of cleaner air.

Main road link

In the Netherlands study, 5,000 people participating a national study on diet and cancer.

The people, aged 55-69, were studied from 1986 to 1994.

Their long-term exposure to the traffic-related air pollutants black smoke and nitrogen dioxide was estimated for each person's home address in 1986.

Cleaner air, whether from traffic, from factories or from homes, has to be good news for health

Mike Childs, Friends of the Earth
Eleven per cent died during the next eight years.

People who lived near a main road were around twice as likely to die from heart and lung disease, and 1.4 times more likely to die from any cause.

However, apart from lung cancer, no other direct link was found between exposure to pollution and mortality.

The researchers, led by Dr Gerard Hoek from the Environmental and Occupational Health Unit at Utrecht University, added: "The association we recorded between living near a major road and mortality was stronger than those for the urban or rural background concentration."

Other factors

In an editorial in the Lancet, Annette Peters of the National Research Centre for Environment and Health, Neuherberg, Germany, said further research was needed.

But she said: "The research reported today has direct relevance to public-health policy, since both coal-burning and traffic emissions continue to be major sources of particulate exposure worldwide.

"Emission control and effective local interventions are needed to lighten the health burden of particulate air-pollution everywhere."

Belinda Linden of the British Heart Foundation said: "There are a variety of factors that may have influenced reduced risk for cardiovascular disease in Dublin including reduced levels of smoking and improved diet.

"The same is true of increased risk of cardiovascular disease for people living near main roads in the Netherlands.

"Although pollution from the road could be one influencing factor, it is possible that those people may have poorer health as a result of several other lifestyle factors."

Mike Childs, environment campaigner for Friends of the Earth told BBC News Online: "There's no doubt that cleaner air, whether from traffic, from factories or from homes, has to be good news for health."

See also:

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